One thing, among many, that A.J. Burnett has preached to the Pirates' young pitchers is to always try to stay in a game. Go deep into every outing.
But Burnett hasn't been able to do that himself recently. Since returning from the disabled list after missing a month with a tear in his right calf, Burnett has allowed five earned runs, 20 hits and eight walks over 16 1/3 innings in three starts, not completing six full frames in any of them.
He'll take on the Nationals and Gio Gonzalez in the final game of a four-game set Thursday afternoon. Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Francisco Liriano all went at least 6 2/3 innings in the first three games of the series.
Burnett waited out a one-hour, 17-minute rain delay in his last start, then allowed four runs to the Reds in the first inning. He bounced back and finished with 10 hits, five runs (two earned) and eight strikeouts charged over 5 2/3 innings.
"I think what A.J. did is show everybody here how you deal with adversity," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said after the loss. "He didn't let that get him down. He said, 'Boys, keep playing. I'm going to get us six,' and he did everything he could to get us as close to six today as you could have asked. It was a gutsy performance by him."
Gonzalez has allowed just one run in his last two starts, surrendering 10 hits and four walks with 16 strikeouts over 13 innings. He hasn't lost since May 27, and is 7-3 with a 2.89 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP this season.
The lefty allowed four hits and two walks with 11 strikeouts in six innings his last start, but the Nats stranded 12 runners and lost, 3-1, to the Dodgers.
With another loss Wednesday, the Nationals are 0-6 since the All-Star break, their longest skid since August 2011.
"I've said it before, I believe in this team and I know it's getting into late July, but still a lot of ballgames to be played," outfielder Jayson Werth said. "I still believe in these guys."
Pirates: Martin rests Wednesday, will start Thursday
• Russell Martin wasn't going to play both games of a night-day back-to-back, so Hurdle gave his backstop Wednesday off to catch Burnett and face Gonzalez on Thursday.
"The A.J. combination was as big a part of it as anything, but Martin also gives us added offense, getting one of our better at-bats against left-handed pitching," Hurdle said.
Martin is batting just .241 against lefties this season, fifth of any Pirate with at least 40 at-bats against southpaws. He's 3-for-7 lifetime against Gonzalez.
Burnett has a 2.69 ERA with Martin behind the plate, compared to 5.28 with backup Michael McKenry.
Nationals: Drought with runners in scoring position continues
• The Nationals are 6-for-81 with runners in scoring position in their last 13 games. Entering Wednesday, they ranked 24th in the league in batting average with men in scoring position. The Pirates ranked last.
On Wednesday, Washington didn't get too many opportunities to cash in with runners on because of Liriano's dominance. The Nats put a man on second in the sixth and eighth innings, but couldn't capitalize on either chance. Werth delivered a two-run homer in the ninth with a man on first.
• Andrew McCutchen was batting .425 with a 1.37 OPS against the Nationals lifetime entering Wednesday, his best marks against any team he's faced at least 10 times.
• Adam LaRoche is 7-for-20 with a home run and five RBIs against Burnett in his career.
• The Pirates clinched the season series against the Nationals with a win Wednesday. After dropping two of three to Washington in early May, Pittsburgh won the first three of a four-game set this week.
Steve Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.