WASHINGTON - So why does Pittsburgh outfielder Andrew McCutchen hit so well against the Washington Nationals? And why has he made Nationals Park his own personal launching pad?
"I couldn't tell you," said McCutchen, who hit a pair of two-run homers with four RBIs as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Washington Nationals 6-5 on Monday. "I have been swinging the bat of late pretty well. I am feeling pretty good when we get here."
The Pirates (58-39) are now 16-9 in the last 25 games, and McCutchen is 44-for-102 in his career against Washington, with 13 homers and 26 RBIs in 27 contests. McCutchen has gone deep in four of his last six games overall and has five homers in his last nine games at Nationals Park against Washington, which lost its fourth in a row.
"He is finding a little more rhythm," said Clint Hurdle, the Pittsburgh manager. "He is not missing pitches. He is a very good player. He has a history of swinging the bat well here. I think he has expected more of himself. He has a feel-good (approach) here. It started before we got here. I am confident it will continue."
But the win came at a cost as All-Star closer Jason Grilli of the Pirates left the game in the ninth inning with right forearm discomfort, according to Hurdle.
"We will wait and see how he feels tomorrow. That is the hard part of things that can happen," Hurdle said. "Our roster is going to be fine."
Washington's Jayson Werth also hit a pair of two-run homers. He hit one of those in the seventh as the Nationals pulled to within 5-3, but the Pirates got a run back in the eighth as Pedro Alvarez scored on a wild pitch by Drew Storen to make it 6-3.
Werth hit another two-run homer in the ninth to make it 6-5. This one came against Grilli, who left the game with the injury after pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi fouled off his first pitch on a check swing with two outs. With Denard Span (double) on second, the Pirates brought in Vin Mazzaro to pitch to Lombardozzi, who grounded to second to end the game.
"You hope for the best," said Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton regarding Grilli. "It is not good to see anyone in pain, let alone your All-Star closer."
A few feet away, Grilli sat in front of his locker, looking down at the floor for several minutes as McCutchen and Morton addressed the media.
"I hope he is all right," McCutchen said.
Morton (2-2) got the win less than 14 months after elbow surgery.
"I thought it was another step forward for Charlie. It was a very good effort for him," Hurdle said.
Meanwhile, Dan Haren (4-11), who was also on the disabled list earlier this year, took the loss for the Nationals after giving up two homers to McCutchen.
"The home runs hurt," Haren said.
The loss continued a bad day -- and post All-Star Game funk -- for the Nationals (48-51), who were swept in three games by the Dodgers this past weekend and have lost nine of their last 11.
Earlier Monday, hitting coach Rick Eckstein was fired. Washington manager Davey Johnson once proclaimed if the Nationals tried to fire Eckstein the team would also have to fire him. But after Eckstein was canned Monday, Johnson told the media: "I am not quitting."
The Nats didn't quit either Monday, but the comeback fell short even though Grilli (30 saves) had to leave.
NOTES: The Nationals replaced Eckstein with Rick Schu, the minor league hitting coordinator. The move was made by Nationals Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo and was clearly not the idea of manager Johnson, 70. "It was a shocker. Today is arguably the toughest day I have had in baseball," said Johnson, who noted he was traded and released as a player and fired as a manager in his five decades in the game. "I feel like part of me is gone." Eckstein had been the hitting coach since Oct. 24, 2008. "He was a team guy," said shortstop Ian Desmond. "He was a great hitting coach. It is on us," said Adam LaRoche. "This is how it works. Someone has to take the fall." ... 2B Neil Walker, who went on the DL July 9 (retroactive to July 7) with right side soreness, may be activated by the Pirates on Tuesday, according to Hurdle. Walker recently completed a rehab appearance with Triple-A Indianapolis and played three days in a row. "We are trying to be aggressive but smart," Hurdle said before Monday's game.