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Nationals fall under .500, losing streak reaches 4 with a 3-2 loss to Pirates

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PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The Nationals stuck with their ace. The Pirates made them pay.

Josh Harrison had a tiebreaking, two-out single two batters after Jose Tabata hit a sacrifice fly off of Stephen Strasburg in the seventh inning, and Pittsburgh handed Washington its fourth straight defeat, 3-2 Saturday night.

Strasburg, who struck out 14 in a memorable major league debut against the Pirates almost four years ago, did not allow a hit Saturday until Walker's homer to centre with one out in the fourth.

Pittsburgh managed just three more singles off Strasburg until the seventh, when Russell Martin led off with a single and went to third on a one-out double by Starling Marte before scoring on the sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Tabata.

"(Strasburg) pitched very well," Washington manager Matt Williams said. "Of course, they got to him in that last inning but I want to give him a chance to get out of there with a tie game. He was still strong. He's our ace, he's deserves a chance to get out of it and it didn't work out."

Gerrit Cole left after six innings trailing by a run while facing Strasburg in the first matchup in the NL of No. 1 overall draft picks in nine years.

Cole — the top pick of the 2011 draft, two years after Strasburg went first — allowed two runs on five hits with seven strikeouts.

Strasburg (3-4) allowed three runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts in seven innings.

Strasburg insisted he wasn't losing his stuff as he crossed the 100-pitch plateau in the seventh.

"My command was still pretty good," he said. "I got a pitch in on Martin and he dumped it into the outfield. I tried to pitch around a couple of guys. The pitch that killed me was the hanging curveball to Marte. That really set up the inning for them."

Of the Harrison at-bat, Strasburg said: "He's the type of hitter who's going to put the ball in play and he put it in the right place."

Harrison followed pinch-hitter Travis Snider, whom the Nationals intentionally walked after Strasburg fell behind 2-0.

"I was pretty much telling myself, 'I feel like I'm seeing everything he's throwing,'" Harrison said of his seventh-inning at bat against Stephen Strasburg. "I was just looking to barrel something up."

Neil Walker hit his 10th home run for the Pirates, who tied their season-best winning streak of four.

Jered Hughes (3-1), Jeanmar Gomez and Mark Melancon each worked a

perfect inning of relief for Pittsburgh. Melancon picked up his ninth save when he finished the Pirates' majors-best 14th one-run victory.

Ian Desmond hit his ninth homer for Washington (24-25), which has lost six of eight and fell under .500 for the first time this season.

"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."

The bullpen backed up Cole, who allowed 10 baserunners and threw 112 pitches in six innings, retiring the side in order only once.

Still, Pittsburgh won for the fourth time in five May starts by Cole.

Wilson Ramos' sawed-off, bloop single in the sixth scored Anthony Rendon to give the Nationals a 2-1 lead.

Greg Dobbs went 2 for 4 for the Nationals.

NOTES: The Mets' Kris Benson (the No. 1 pick of the 1996 draft) faced Cincinnati's Paul Wilson (No. 1 overall in 1994) on May 16, 2005 — the most recent occurrence of top picks facing each other in the NL.

It happened in the American League two years ago (Kansas City's Luke Hochevar vs. Tampa Bay's David Price on Aug. 21, 2012). . 1B Adam LaRoche joined the Nationals in Pittsburgh and will be activated for Sunday's game. Infielder Zach Walters was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse after Saturday's game to make room for LaRoche, who has been on the disabled list since May 10 because of a right quad strain. ... SS Desmond's homer gives the Nationals 17 this season from their middle infielders, most in the majors. . The four-game series wraps up Sunday when Washington RHP Doug Fister (1-1, 3.93) faces Pirates LHP Francisco Liriano (0-4, 4.86). Despite his record, Pittsburgh has won five of Liriano's past six starts.

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