Jeremy Hellickson came close Tuesday. He got the Washington Nationals a win, but they still need more from their starters, whose short outings have taxed the bullpen.
Hellickson, who had given up 11 earned runs in his previous 8 2/3 innings over two starts, allowed three Pittsburgh baserunners on a walk and two singles in a 5-1 victory over the Pirates, but with the Nationals rallying in the sixth and wanting to build on their lead, he left for a pinch-hitter having lasted five innings.
"I think, over the course of a season, things turn around," Washington manager Dave Martinez said. "Our starting pitchers will get back in form and they'll pitch six, seven innings, and our bullpen will get the rest that they need. But right now, we've got to keep fighting, keep scratching and clawing."
The Nationals could get a boost when Stephen Strasburg returns from the disabled list, likely after the All-Star break.
In the meantime -- including the deciding game of the series against the Pirates on Wednesday at PNC Park -- Washington will be without closer and All-Star Sean Doolittle, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list Tuesday because of left toe inflammation. He got hurt Saturday when he tripped over a pitching mound and will miss the All-Star Game.
The Nationals recalled right-handers Wander Suero and Austin Voth from Triple-A Syracuse. They also returned right-hander Jefry Rodriguez, who took the loss and also lasted five innings in the Pirates series opener, to Syracuse.
The Nationals (46-45) broke a two-game slide and won for the fourth time in six games Tuesday to climb back over .500. Pittsburgh (42-49) ended a two-game winning streak and lost for the sixth time in eight games.
For the series finale, Washington left-hander Gio Gonzalez (6-5, 3.76 ERA) is set to face Pittsburgh right-hander Trevor Williams (6-7, 4.60).
Gonzalez's ERA has climbed from 2.27 to 3.76 over his past six starts. He is coming off two straight no-decisions of five innings each. Friday, he gave up eight hits and walked four yet limited Miami to two runs thanks to three double-play grounders in Washington's comeback win.
"We try to encourage him -- 'Hey, you're doing good. Get that little man out of your head'," Martinez said.
Gonzalez is 4-1 with a 3.88 ERA in nine career starts against Pittsburgh.
Williams sounded off after his last outing, when he took the loss Friday, 17-5 against Philadelphia, giving up five runs and five hits in 2 1/3 innings. It was his third straight loss and Pittsburgh's fourth setback in what became a five-game skid.
At that point, the Pirates had lost 30 of their past 44 games and had been outscored by 48-13 over four contests.
"We're tired of losing," Williams said. "I'm tired of getting my (rear) kicked every five days. I'm searching. ... I think for me, personally, it's getting a little embarrassing. I need to have ownership and be better about it."
He was 5-2 with a 2.72 ERA in his first nine starts but is 1-5 with a 7.02 ERA in his past nine.
Against Washington, Williams is 0-1 with a 5.68 ERA in two career appearances (one start). In that start May 3, he gave up three runs in 5 2/3 innings in a 3-1 road loss.