PITTSBURGH -- The Nationals continue to have problems on offense as they lost to the Pirates, 4-2, at PNC Park on Wednesday night.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson had a predominantly right-handed-hitting lineup because left-hander Erik Bedard started the game for Pittsburgh. Bedard, however, left the game after one inning with back spasms.
The Nationals, it seemed, were not prepared for the relievers they faced the rest of the game. The Pirates' bullpen was dominant, allowing two runs in eight innings and striking out 11 batters, all of them swinging.
In the last two games, the Nationals have struck out 23 times. No wonder Johnson was upset after Wednesday's game.
"Obviously, we are helping too much. We are taking pitches we can hit. We are chasing -- a lot of little things that we can rectify," Johnson said.
Asked if he was going to shake up the lineup on Thursday against Pittsburgh, Johnson said, "I don't know. I have to get over this one before I think about tomorrow."
The Nationals scored their two runs in the fourth and seventh innings, respectively.
With Brad Lincoln on the mound for Pittsburgh in the fourth inning, Bryce Harper scored on a single by Xavier Nady.
Danny Espinosa touched home plate on a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Chad Tracy, his sixth RBI in that role, three innings later.
The Pirates scored three runs in the third inning off left-hander Ross Detwiler, who lasted six innings and allowed seven hits. Lincoln scored on a single by Neil Walker. Andrew McCutchen followed and singled to right field, scoring Jose Tabata to make it a 2-0 game.
"[The outing] was all right. We want the third inning back," Detwiler said.
Two batters later, Casey McGehee hit a ball in the hole at short. Ian Desmond backhanded the ball and held on to it too long as McCutchen scored from second to give Pittsburgh a three-run cushion.
"[McCutchen] made a good baserunning play," Desmond said. "I kept it in the infield. I would say nine out of 10 times that runner stops and tries to dive back into third. He saw that I fielded it, and he looked at me and just darted toward home. I had to make sure I had a good grip on the ball, and it was just too late. It was a good baserunning play by him. Obviously, his speed helped."
McCutchen acknowledged that was hoping for Desmond to throw the ball to first base.
"When I got to third, I was thinking of trying to score on the throw to first. He hesitated a little bit, and it was just enough to let me score," said the Pirates' center fielder.
The Nationals had a chance to at least tie the score against right-hander Jason Grilli in the eighth inning. They had the bases loaded with one out, but both Espinosa and Rick Ankiel struck out to end the threat.
"Some days, you're just off, and you've got to work through it," Grilli said. "Rhythm, timing ... just wasn't there. We're not robots. Sometimes you have to fight through it and find a way, and that's the way I felt tonight."
McCutchen then added another run in the eighth inning when he homered off right-hander Craig Stammen.
Washington threatened again in the ninth inning against closer Joel Hanrahan. The Nationals had runners on second and third and one out, but Harper popped up to Clint Barmes at short, and Ryan Zimmerman struck out to end the game. The Nationals ended up leaving 10 runners on base.
"I like the matchups we had, we had men in scoring position, and we just didn't swing the bats," Johnson said. "We swung and missed too many times. Det kept us in the game. We had many chances to win the ballgame. We are just getting five hits and too many punchouts.
"We had pitches to hit, and we swing right through them. I don't know if guys are feeling too much pressure because we are having trouble generating runs. The pitcher is in the jam. Just relax. If he throws it over, hit it. Tonight was especially frustrating."
The Nationals are now on a three-game losing streak and dropped their record to 18-12 for the season.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.