PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A.J. Burnett posted a 2.11 ERA during a first half that led to the first All-Star selection in his 17-year career. But his second-half struggles continue.
After he allowed six runs in six innings to Kansas City Monday, the Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander gave up five runs in 5 2/3 innings in a 9-3 loss to the Washington Nationals on Saturday night.
Burnett struck out six in his first three innings, but issues with command surfaced and the Nationals capitalized. Burnett hit three batters and allowed the Nationals to score in three straight innings before he was removed with two outs in the sixth.
"The control was terrible," Burnett said. "I'm hitting guys in the foot, throwing balls down the middle, throwing balls away at first, what else, didn't cover home."
Washington scored its first run in the second when Ian Desmond crossed home on a wild pitch. Burnett's 0-2 curveball bounced in front of home and to the right of catcher Francisco Cervelli, halfway between home plate and the dugout.
Burnett took a few steps off the mound but did not seem to make an effort toward covering home with Desmond on third.
"You've gotta be moving in that direction because the ball didn't get that far away," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I think Frankie was surprised we didn't have a play. (Burnett) might've got caught flat-footed."
Burnett (8-4) gave up five runs and 11 hits, struck out eight and walked none.
Since the All-Star Break, Burnett has allowed 11 runs in 11 2/3 innings to raise his ERA to 2.68.
"If you expect me to go out and do what I did in the first half, you're nuts," Burnett said. "I'm doing everything I can but that's ridiculous numbers and I mean execution is really the answer. The first half I executed, the last two starts I haven't."
Michael Taylor led the way for Washington with a home run and three RBIs as a part of a 4-for-5 night. In two games against Burnett, Taylor has hit .714 against the veteran right-hander.
"Obviously I see the ball well against him," Taylor said. "I feel fortunate. He's a great pitcher."
Gio Gonzalez (8-4) lasted just five-plus innings and gave up three runs, one earned, and five hits with no walks and five strikeouts. Yet the left-hander stayed unbeaten in his last five starts and improved to 4-0 lifetime against the Pirates.
The Nationals' Yunel Escobar had three hits, including two doubles, after sitting out the previous two games with a sore left wrist, while Ian Desmond homered for a third straight game for the NL East leaders. He connected for a two-run shot in the seventh off Deolis Guerra that made it 7-3.
Desmond, who has 11 homers, went 2-for-4 and is 10-for-20 during a six-game hitting streak. He went hitless in 16 at-bats in his previous five games.
Washington manager Matt Williams was most impressed with Desmond's final at-bat in which he did not offer at pitches out of the zone and drew a five-pitch walk.
"That just tells me he's seeing it so much better," Williams said. "Yeah, he had a homer. He also laid down a pretty good sac bunt. He's a team guy and he's doing whatever he can to help us win."
The Nationals needed the late homers after the Pirates scored three runs in the sixth inning to knock Gonzalez from the game and draw to 5-3 on RBI singles by Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Cervelli, who had two hits.
In the fifth, Bryce Harper doubled and scored on a single by Clint Robinson to push the lead to 4-0. Harper extended his streak of reaching base to 22 straight games.
Nationals: Rendon was activated from the disabled list after missing 25 games with a left quadriceps strain and went 0-for-4 with the sac fly.
Pirates: INF Justin Sellers, who has been out all season with a sore right Achilles tendon, had his rehab assignment transferred to Triple-A Indianapolis from the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
ON THE BENCH
Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez was not in the lineup despite homering in each of the first two games of the series, though he enter the game in the sixth inning as part of a double switch. He singled off Gonzalez after having been 0-for-6 with four strikeouts against him.
Right-hander Lucas Giolito, considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, was promoted by the Nationals to Double-A Harrisburg. The 21-year-old went 3-5 with a 2.71 ERA in 13 games with Single-A Potomac.
UP NEXT: Gerrit Cole (13-4, 2.31), who leads the major leagues in wins, will try to become the first Pirates pitcher with 14 victories before the end of July since Dock Ellis in 1971. He faces rookie Joe Ross (2-2, 2.70).