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CIN@WSH: Gio one-hits Reds over eight strong innings

Andrew McCutchen is still waiting to get hot. Bryce Harper has been hot much of the season.

And yet it's the Pirates offense that continues to impress, grinding out at-bats and giving opposing pitchers something other than the home run to be worried about.

As Washington (16-15) and Pittsburgh (17-13) prepare for the series finale on Sunday, the Nationals offense is looking to develop something closer to what the Pirates have found: consistency.

And after Nationals manager Davey Johnson held a closed-door meeting before Saturday's game, his team responded with a 5-4, come-from-behind victory that might provide some spark for an offense that's shown little.

"Our offense seems to be sputtering. We just can't get anything going. That's our problem," Johnson said. "We are not hitting balls early in the count. ... We have a lot better hitters than we are showing."

Since April 21, the Nationals have scored more than three runs in a game just three times. And entering Saturday, no team in baseball scored less in a seven-day stretch than Washington, which mustered just 18 runs on a .204 batting average.

With Jayson Werth hampered by a tight right hamstring and forced to the bench, Danny Espinosa getting two days off to help break a slump, and Ryan Zimmerman "rusty" after his return from the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain, the manager doesn't have any more cards to play.

"We are kind of hitting rock bottom. We just need to man up," Johnson said. "Let's start doing the things we are capable of doing. The ones that get me are the [called strikeouts].

"There are not a whole lot of changes I can make. ... We pretty much have the right guys. We have to start doing a better job. It's as simple as that."

The Pirates, meanwhile, have won 16 of 24. Entering Saturday, no team had hit more home runs in a seven-day stretch than the Pirates, who smashed 15. And they hit two more Saturday.

"We came out of the chute a week into the season this time. Last year, we took two months to get there," manager Clint Hurdle said.

"I like the balance and length of the lineup. More experience for the core guys. The addition of [Starling] Marte at the top and [Russell] Martin at the bottom. Then look at the middle. It's so much better. It's the evolution of the club, and I've seen it with other teams."

Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez will get the nod Sunday hoping to work out some of the kinks in a season in which he's been brilliant in three starts and allowed at least five earned runs in three others.

Opposing Gonzalez will be Wandy Rodriguez, who got off to a solid start until a seven-run meltdown in Milwaukee tarnished his stats on Monday, pushing his ERA from 1.66 to 3.91

Nationals: Span rests sore ankle
Denard Span was held out of Saturday's lineup after hurting his right ankle when he fouled the ball off it on Friday. Span, who was replaced by Roger Bernadina in center field, said he's day to day.

"It's a little tender, a little sore today," Span said Saturday. "I got out here early this morning to get some treatment. There was a lot of swelling. I woke up this morning, it definitely didn't feel that great. I'm going to have the doctor look at it. I should be available later on in the game. But I think it's day to day."

Pirates: Melancon shining after down year
The Red Sox didn't know what to do with Mark Melancon last year. He entered the season with hopes of being a shutdown, late-inning reliever, but he was eventually kicked back to the Minors after posting a 6.20 ERA.

The Pirates have had no such problems. Melancon has combined with closer Jason Grilli to form one of the league's best late-inning tandems. Entering Saturday, they had a combined 0.62 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 29 innings.

"The kid's done a very good job," Hurdle said of Melancon. "He continues to show up and be very, very effective. His cutter has become a very effective pitch, the fastball's got the best life we've seen yet, and the breaking ball is in play."

Worth noting
• Washington's Ian Desmond went 0-for-4 Saturday to end his hitting streak at 10 games. The shortstop is hitting .286 with four home runs and three stolen bases.

• Pittsburgh's Jose Tabata (left hamstring) was available for pinch-hit duty Saturday, but still is not likely to return to the starting lineup Sunday.

• The Nats' Adam LaRoche, who is hitting .163 with three home runs this season, hasn't homered since April 20, a span of 14 games. He walked three times Saturday. Comments