Pirates aim for first 4-game sweep of Nats in 25 years

The Pittsburgh Pirates hope to take advantage of the hitting struggles by the Washington Nationals and sweep a four-game series Thursday afternoon.

The Nats, who have lost six in a row and 11 of their last 13 games, just can't seem to get the clutch hit. They are 6-for-81 (.074) with men in scoring position over their last 13 contests.

The level of futility has given the Pirates a chance to complete a four-game road whitewash of the Nationals/Expos franchise for the first time since June 23-26, 1988 in Montreal.

A.J. Burnett will get the ball today for the Pirates with a chance to hold down the Nats. The right-hander is 8-3 all-time in his career against the Nationals franchise in 16 games (15 starts), but recently it's been tough going for the veteran.

Burnett has just one victory in his last 10 starts and that came June 8 at Wrigley Field. He allowed 10 hits and five runs -- two earned -- in 5 2/3 innings in a defeat at Cincinnati on Saturday. He has allowed two earned runs or less in all but one of his eight starts on the road.

He's won each of his last four decisions versus the Nats and suffered his last loss on April 8, 2002 when the team was located in Montreal. He has never pitched at Nationals Park in his career.

Gio Gonzalez could be the best pitcher available at this time for the Nationals to get back on the winning track. The left-hander is 4-0 over his last nine starts and hasn't lost since May 27 against Baltimore. He's given up just four runs over his last four starts.

Gonzalez is 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in three lifetime starts against the Pirates.

Last night, Michael McKenry's two-run single in the top of the ninth proved to be the difference, as the Pirates held on for a 4-2 win.

Francisco Liriano (10-4) tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings for Pittsburgh, allowing just two hits while striking out eight and walking three.

"He was efficient, quick outs, good stuff," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Pedro Alvarez hit a solo homer for the Pirates, who have won four in a row. Neil Walker had an RBI and a run scored.

Washington starter Stephen Strasburg (5-8) gave up one run on two hits while striking out a season-high 12 batters over eight innings.

Jayson Werth hit a two-run homer for Washington, which has lost six straight.

"I don't really care about my wins and losses as a pitcher, I just care about our team winning games. I think its time where our backs are against the wall and we just have to start doing what it takes," Strasburg said.

The Nationals won two of three from the Pirates earlier this season, May 3-5 at PNC Park.