PITTSBURGH -- As the Pirates' Opening Day starter and most reliable arm to return from the 2013 rotation, Francisco Lirano is well aware of what his duty is.
After another fruitless outing, Liriano is well aware he's not getting it done.
The veteran left-hander scuffled again Sunday, and the Pirates' homestand ended just how it began earlier in the week -- a loss with Liriano on the mound. The Nationals topped Pittsburgh, 5-2, halting a four-game winning streak.
Liriano surrendered four runs -- two on wild pitches -- on six hits and walked four in a five-inning showing that pushed him to 0-5 on the season. It was the latest in a string of sub-par starts, and his May ERA rose to 6.57 while his WHIP now sits at 1.784 this month.
"I'm not doing my job at all," Liriano said. "I'm not going deep into the game, and I'm not keeping the team in the ballgame."
Liriano was never able to get in a rhythm in front of 38,047 fans as Denard Span led off the game with a double. The next batter, Anthony Rendon, walked and both Nationals came around to score to put Pittsburgh in an early hole. Span scored on a wild pitch, Rendon on an Ian Desmond single.
After three scoreless innings, the Nationals' leadoff duo troubled Liriano again in the fifth frame when Span scored on a Rendon triple to deep right-center field. Liriano's command cost him another run, as he bounced a pitch in the dirt that got away from catcher Chris Stewart, allowing Rendon to score.
"I thought he had sequence of all three pitches -- in some spots," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of his starter. "The consistency over five innings was not there. The challenge of this game is, you're a pitch or two away from pushing through."
Span was 2-for-5 on the afternoon, and was the latest example of left-handed hitters having success against Liriano this season. In 2014, lefties are hitting .313 against him. That figure was .131 last season, which may feel further away than eight months to Liriano.
Said Rendon: "Last year, he diced us up pretty good. It just feels good to get him back."
The Bucs had a difficult time solving Liriano's counterpart, Doug Fister, who didn't allow a runner to reach second base until the fifth inning when Pedro Alvarez got there via a Desmond error. Fister cruised through five, but ran into a bit of trouble in the sixth when Josh Harrison's third homer of the season, a solo shot, was followed by a pair of singles.
Nationals manager Matt Williams had a quick hook for Fister, who was making just his fourth start of 2014. Fister was pulled after allowing six hits in 5 1/3 innings and had four strikeouts to no walks on 83 pitches. The Harrison homer was the only run the Pirates managed in the sixth, as Starling Marte grounded into a double play against reliever Craig Stammen to end the threat.
"When he made mistakes, they were mistakes that were out of the zone," said Harrison, who went 2-for-4. "He made some pitches when he needed to, and it was a matter of trying to take advantage if he made a mistake. ... The first couple times through the lineup, he was using all of his pitches and he didn't really miss anything out over [the plate] that he could really get hurt with."
Washington tacked on a run against reliever Vin Mazzaro in the seventh inning, but the Pirates were in a position to make things interesting the following inning. Singles from Harrison, Neil Walker and Ike Davis yielded a run, however, Andrew McCutchen, who was 0-for-4 on the day, soured the rally with a strikeout, and Marte also went down swinging with runners on the corners.
"There's tipping points in every sport. We had ours today," Hurdle said referencing the late-game chances. "When you don't meet the demands that are laid out there for you, two or three times, you get what you get at the end, and you get the wrong letter."
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.