PITTSBURGH — Clint Hurdle was confident he had made the right move, even though it didn’t work out.
With one out and first base open in the eighth inning of a one-run game, the Pittsburgh Pirates manager decided to intentionally walk the Washington Nationals left-handed-hitting first baseman Adam LaRoche in order to have rookie right-handed reliever Bryan Morris face right-handed-hitting Tyler Moore.
It made sense from a statistical standpoint. LaRoche had been 4-for-7 with four walks to that point in the three-game series while Moore had struck out six times and had a .158 batting average.
The move backfired, though, as Moore hit a three-run homer off rookie reliever Morris to seal the Washington Nationals’ 6-2 victory over the Pirates on Sunday.
“LaRoche had been on base all weekend and seeing the ball well,” Hurdle said. “We decided to go right-on-right there with Morris against Moore and it didn’t work out.”
Danny Espinosa homered and drove in three runs and Gio Gonzalez (3-2) won for just the third time in seven starts after winning 21 games last season.
Moore homered for the first time this year after hitting 10 in 75 games last season as a rookie. He also hit the go-ahead sacrifice fly Saturday in the ninth inning as the Nationals edged the Pirates 5-4.
Gonzalez allowed two runs and five hits in six innings, walking two and striking out five.
He had been tagged for 18 runs and 21 hits in his previous four starts, going 1-2 in that span.
Starling Marte hit a leadoff homer in the first, his fourth in five games for Pittsburgh. The Pirates then loaded the bases with none out but Gonzalez escaped the jam by striking out Russell Martin and Michael McKenry and getting Brandon Inge to ground out.
“It felt awful to come out of the first inning with only one run,” McKenry said. “I know Russ wanted to get a big hit. I know I wanted to get a big hit. It’s not how we drew it up ourselves. Gio is a great pitcher but I’m not going to give him any more credit than he deserves because I got myself out.”
Espinosa’s two-run homer in the fourth put Washington ahead for good at 3-1. He also hit a sacrifice fly in the second as the Nationals won for the fourth time in five games and sent the Pirates to third loss in four games.
Rodriguez (2-2) gave up three runs and six hits, striking out seven and walking one in six innings. However, the left-hander needed to throw 117 pitches to get his 18 outs.
The Pirates pulled within 3-2 in the sixth when Martin hit an RBI double.
“I had to work very hard,” Rodriguez said. “There were a lot of pitches close to home plate and the umpire didn’t help me out. They also hit a lot of foul balls. It seemed like it was foul, foul, foul, strikeout.”
Wilson Ramos had three hits for the Nationals. Roger Bernandina, who took over for Harper after the ejection, had two hits after entering the game with only one hit all season in 25 at-bats.
Nationals star Bryce Harper was ejected in the first inning for disputing a checked-swing third strike. He tried to hold up on a 2-2 pitch from Wandy Rodriguez and home plate umpire Bob Davidson pointed to third base ump John Hirschbeck for help. Hirschbeck ruled that Harper had swung.
NOTES: Tests conducted on Pittsburgh RHP Charlie Morton’s right arm revealed no structural damage. Morton, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery performed last June, left his rehab start with Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday after three innings with discomfort in his shoulder. He will start playing catch Monday and is tentatively scheduled to throw off a mound during the four-game series against the Mets in New York that begins Thursday. ... The Pirates, like the Nationals, are off today then open a two-game home series with Seattle on Tuesday night. James McDonald (2-2, 5.76) is scheduled to start for the Pirates against Aaron Harang (1-3, 8.68).