In his last two starts, Doug Fister has looked like the pitcher the Nationals thought they had traded for in the offseason.
They'll hope he pitches like it again Sunday, as the team looks to snap a four-game losing streak and salvage one game of a four-game series in Pittsburgh.
Fister didn't make his Washington debut until May 9 because of a right lat strain, but has settled in after a shaky first outing. In his last two trips to the mound, Fister has combined to surrender three runs in 14 innings with 11 strikeouts and just one walk in that span.
The 6-foot-8 right-hander threw at least 100 pitches in each of his last two appearances, and sat down 12 straight hitters in his last start, a 9-4 victory against Cincinnati, the first for Fister in a Nationals uniform.
Inducing ground balls has always been Fister's forte, and it's no different this season.
"It's a constant battle for me to keep the ball down -- keeping mainly the sinker down and moving," Fister said. "It's always something that I'm working on. It's not something that I've reached. When I get complacent, it gets up in the zone, it gets hit pretty hard. It's a focus of mine, and that's how I approach the game."
Francisco Liriano will get the ball for the streaking Pirates, who have strung together four straight wins for the second time this season.
Liriano, the Pirates' Opening Day starter, is still looking for win No. 1 this season and could be the second Pittsburgh starter to break into the win column for the first time this season in three days, as Charlie Morton did so Friday. Liriano, a lefty, is still trying to regain his 2013 form, as his ERA is nearly two runs higher than last season's.
Liriano gave up the most runs of his 2014 campaign in his last start when the Orioles plated six, all of which were earned, on nine hits in five innings against the 30-year-old last Tuesday.
Pirates: Walker keeps showing power stroke
Neil Walker hit his team-leading 10th home run of the season Saturday night when he turned around a 95-mph fastball from Stephen Strasburg.
The blast makes it five straight seasons that the second baseman has reached double-digit homers, but he's hitting for power at his best pace ever this season. In 2013, Walker hit a career-best 16 homers, and averaged one every 29.9 at-bats. This season, Walker is averaging one home run per 18.7 at-bats.
In addition to leading the Pirates in the category, Walker -- a Pittsburgh native -- is first among National League second basemen in homers. The only player at the position in the Majors with more roundtrippers than Walker is Brian Dozier of the Twins.
Nationals: LaRoche set to return Sunday
The Nationals are in need of some offensive help, and they're going to get it on Sunday.
First baseman Adam LaRoche joined the team Saturday at PNC Park and participated in batting practice after making two rehab appearances in the Minors as he mends from a strained right quad. Nationals manager Matt Williams announced after Saturday's 3-2 loss that LaRoche would be activated for Sunday's matinee series finale against the Pirates.
"I can't even say that it's just tight or even sore. I didn't feel it at all," LaRoche said of his quad. "I'm really surprised that it was gone. As bad as it hurt and from what we could see from the MRI, I didn't think with a week off it would make it go away."
LaRoche was hitting .319 before the injury and was putting up solid numbers in the middle of the Nats' order with five homers, 21 RBIs and a .925 OPS in 25 contests. The veteran will be a welcomed sight for Nationals fans when he rejoins the lineup, as the team has mustered just seven runs in its last four games.
• If the Pirates win Sunday, it will be their first five-game winning streak since Aug. 3-8 last season.
• With a solo home run Saturday, Ian Desmond moved into a tie with Adam Dunn for most homers hit all-time as a member of the Nationals with 76. Ryan Zimmerman has the franchise lead with 181.
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.