WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals hit four home runs and took a seven-run lead into the ninth inning, providing hope that the team's beleaguered bullpen would not again be the main topic of conversation.
No such luck.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez called upon three relievers to face the San Francisco Giants in the ninth inning, and closer Sean Doolittle finally got the final out in a 9-6 victory Wednesday.
Coming with a major league-worst 7.83 ERA and four blown saves, Washington's bullpen did the job until the ninth, when Austen Williams yielded two-run homers to both Gerardo Parra and Steven Duggar. After Kyle Barraclough came in and got the first out, Doolittle gave up a double and a walk before finally quelling the uprising.
"That happened really fast," Martinez said. "To have to use Doolittle after being up seven in the ninth, it's tough. But we had to close out the game."
Juan Soto and Howie Kendrick hit first-inning home runs, and Matt Adams and Kurt Suzuki connected in the seventh to put Washington up 9-2. Two innings later, however, a potential rout had turned into a tight situation.
"We've got to get those last three outs. That's what we were thinking," Adams said.
Soto's two-run drive , Kendrick's solo shot and an RBI single by Adam Eaton put Washington ahead 4-0 against Jeff Samardzija (1-1) in the second.
Facing rookie Travis Bergen in the seventh, Adams delivered a three-run homer and Suzuki followed a single by Kendrick with a liner inside the left-field foul pole to make it 9-2.
And yet, the Nationals ended up using their closer to finish.
"It's great to see us get into their bullpen a little bit," Samardzija said. "Even in a loss, make them get a few guys up, probably a few more than they wanted to. As long as we're taking at-bats like that from the get to the end of the game, I think when it's all said and done we're going to be all right."
Samardzija struck out seven in five innings but gave up four runs and five hits. He walked two, and both runners scored.
"Those leadoff walks, leadoff hits, just make the day a whole lot more complicated," Samardzija said.
The right-hander has lost seven straight starts against the Nationals since beating them in August 2013 as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
In this one, two of the first five batters he faced went deep. Soto connected after Eaton drew a leadoff walk, and Kendrick hit a two-out drive to left.
"He settled in. He made some mistakes early, but he ended up giving us five innings," manager Bruce Bochy said. "Nice job of bouncing back after a rough start for him."
Jeremy Hellickson (2-0) allowed two runs and five hits over 5 2/3 innings for the Nationals. It was the 11th straight appearance in which he limited the opposition to three earned runs or fewer.
Washington's Anthony Rendon hit a two-out single in the eighth to extend his career-high hitting streak to 15 games. ... San Francisco C Buster Posey extended his homerless streak to 228 at-bats, the longest run of his career. ... Giants 2B Joe Panik extended his career-long homerless run to 231 at-bats.
The Giants have not scored a first-inning run in any of their 19 games. San Francisco has been outscored 11-0 in the first.
Nationals: 2B Brian Dozier was held from the starting lineup after fouling a ball off his toe on Tuesday night. "He had to get in drained yesterday, so I assumed he was going to be sore," Martinez said. Dozier entered as a defensive replacement in the eighth. ... SS Trea Turner is staying active while waiting for his broken index finger to heal. "He's keeping his legs in shape, doing everything he can without using that index finger," Martinez said.
Giants: LHP Drew Pomeranz (0-1, 3.86 ERA) makes his 200th career appearance on Thursday afternoon in the series finale. He's 2-0 in two lifetime starts against the Nationals but hasn't pitched in D.C. since 2012.
Nationals: LHP Patrick Corbin (0-0, 2.84) seeks his first win with Washington. He's 4-1 in his last seven starts vs. S.F.
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