Nationals-Pirates Preview

The Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Pirates have lost only once in the past six games, and that came with Francisco Liriano on the mound.

Liriano would like to avoid a similar fate against the struggling Washington Nationals, as he again seeks his first win of 2014 in the finale of this four-game set Sunday.

The Pirates (22-26) are trying to turn around their season, and with NL Central-leading Milwaukee struggling, a four-game winning streak has helped them pull within six games of first place.

They may have a chance to win a season-best five in a row if they can get Liriano (0-4, 4.86 ERA) going, especially at home.

The left-hander has failed to get a win in 10 starts after getting a career high while going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA last year, helping Pittsburgh earn a wild-card berth. He enjoyed much of that success at home, where he was 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA in 11 starts.

Liriano isn't even close to being that effective at PNC Park in 2014, going 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA. He was hammered for season highs of six runs and nine hits - two homers - in five innings of a 9-2 home loss to Baltimore on Tuesday.

Liriano had no such problems in his only career start against the Nationals (24-25) on July 24, when he struck out eight while yielding two hits in 7 2-3 shutout innings of a 4-2 win at Washington.

Despite his recent struggles, Liriano could be in for another strong performance against the Nationals, who have plated seven runs while batting .194 during a four-game slide to drop under .500 for the first time this year.

The Pirates have also won six of seven meetings with Washington, including the first three of this series after Josh Harrison put them up for good with a two-out, run-scoring single off Stephen Strasburg in the seventh inning of Saturday's 3-2 win.

Harrison is 11 for 24 (.458) with two homers and nine RBIs over his last seven meetings with Washington.

The Nationals are trying to avoid their longest slide since dropping six games in a row from July 19-24, which included three defeats to the Pirates.

"It's tough - we're all trying very hard, trying to get back on track," Strasburg said. "I do think we've probably reached the point where we're trying too hard and need to take a step back and let the game come to us."

Potentially getting Adam LaRoche back from a strained right quad could help.

The first baseman is expected to be activated from the disabled list, and he's a .351 career hitter against the Pirates. He also owns a .417 average with three homers, five doubles and 11 RBIs over his last 11 visits to Pittsburgh.

"Hopefully, that's a boost for us. We are glad to have him back," manager Matt Williams told the team's official website.

Washington is scheduled to turn to Doug Fister (1-1, 3.93), who is looking for a third straight impressive performance.

After giving up a run in seven innings against Arizona on May 14, the right-hander yielded two runs in seven innings of Tuesday's 9-4 win over Cincinnati, his first victory since being acquired in a trade with Detroit last winter.

"It's a constant battle for me to keep the ball down - keeping mainly the sinker down and moving," Fister said. "It's always something that I'm working on."

Fister is 0-1 while allowing two earned runs with 19 strikeouts in 13 innings over two starts against Pittsburgh.

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