WASHINGTON (AP) — Stephen Strasburg fiddled with the bottom of his gray T-shirt and stared blankly ahead, unaccustomed to his Washington Nationals struggling day after day the way they are at the moment.
"We need to win some games," Strasburg said. "It's getting to the point where our back's against the wall."
A popular pick to follow up last year's majors-leading 98 wins and playoff appearance with a deep run, Washington is in a real rut right now. Wasting Strasburg's 12-strikeout performance, and held without a hit by Pittsburgh's Francisco Liriano until the sixth inning, the Nationals lost to the Pirates 4-2 Wednesday night, their sixth consecutive defeat since the All-Star break.
"When things get tough ... your true colors really come out. It's all about what type of person you are. Are you the type that's going to sit there and look in the mirror and do everything you can to be better out there? Or are you going to start pointing fingers?" Strasburg said. "I don't think there's a single guy in the clubhouse who's going to start pointing fingers. Every single guy in here is responsible and we all want to win just as bad as any other team out there."
The reigning NL East champions are currently in third place, a season-worst nine games behind the Atlanta Braves, and the offense is mainly to blame. The Nationals have scored only 13 runs during their 0-6 slide, which is part of a 2-11 stretch.
Already the owner of one previous no-hitter, Liriano (10-4) walked the first batter he faced, then retired 11 in a row before another walk. Five more outs followed, before rookie Anthony Rendon reached on what was ruled an infield single with two away in the sixth.
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez — who earlier homered off Strasburg — dove to his left to stop the ball, but it popped out of his glove, and he couldn't quite corral it. The next batter walked, but Liriano struck out cleanup hitter Jayson Werth looking.
"Everything was working the way I wanted tonight," said Liriano, who wound up allowing two hits in 7 2-3 innings.
The Pirates tacked on three insurance runs in the ninth against relievers Drew Storen and Fernando Abad, thanks to Neil Walker's RBI double and Michael McKenry's two-run single. That became pivotal when Werth hit a two-run shot, his 15th homer, off Justin Wilson in the bottom half. Werth is seemingly the only Nationals batter capable of producing at the moment; he's hit five homers in the past four games.
Wilson was replaced by Mark Melancon, who got the last three outs to earn his third save — ending with a double play on which second baseman Walker whiffed on his attempted tag of lead runner Wilson Ramos.