CHICAGO (AP) — Aníbal Sánchez wanted to help his weary teammates with a strong performance on the mound.
The solid afternoon at the plate was an unexpected bonus.
Sánchez pitched one-hit ball into the ninth inning and helped himself with two perfectly placed bunts, leading the Washington Nationals to a 9-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Friday.
“I’m not a good hitter, but if I can do something for the team on the home plate, it’s good,” Sánchez said.
Washington had a short turnaround with an early start after its 7-1 victory at Pittsburgh on Thursday night. The Nationals didn’t arrive in Chicago until early Friday morning, but their loaded lineup looked as if it got more than enough rest.
“Proud of the boys,” manager Dave Martinez said. “They battled through a long night last night, came back here and (were) ready to play. They played really well and Aníbal led that.”
Juan Soto and Adam Eaton homered as Washington improved to 13-4 in its past 17 games, putting pressure on NL East-leading Atlanta and strengthening its position atop the wild-card standings. It has outscored its opponents 129-66 since Aug. 5.
Chicago had won five in a row, but it was unable to overcome a shaky start by Jon Lester (10-9) and another rough performance at the plate. The Cubs finished with three hits, including two in their three-run ninth, a day after they had two in a 1-0 victory over San Francisco.
“It’s my job to do better, and I’m not,” Lester said. “I let a five-game winning streak basically go down the wayside because I didn’t throw the ball very well.”
Sánchez (8-6), who flew into Chicago ahead of time on Thursday, allowed one earned run while improving to 8-0 with a 3.13 ERA in his past 16 starts. Matt Grace got the last two outs.
The 35-year-old Sánchez “did a good job moving the ball in and out, mixing up speeds,” Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber said. “When he was missing, he was missing off the plate.”
He also delivered with his bat, going 2 for 3 after beginning the day with two hits on the year.
He set up Trea Turner’s sacrifice fly in the third with a swinging bunt that he directed toward third to stay away from charging first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He drove in a run with a two-out bunt single in the fourth that died practically on the third-base line.
“We always preach about doing the little things,” Martinez said, “and today you saw what we can do. We can come at you in many different ways.”
Lester allowed six runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings. The left-hander dropped to 1-3 with an 8.51 ERA in five starts this month.
Soto had three hits and scored four times, and Víctor Robles finished with two hits and two RBIs. Soto led off the seventh with a drive to center off David Phelps for his team-best 29th homer .
Turner singled in the eighth to extend a pair of streaks. The speedy shortstop has reached base safely in 30 straight games, extending his career high. He also is batting .333 (12 for 36) during a seven-game hit streak.
Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer reported no setbacks a day after he pitched four innings in a 7-1 victory at Pittsburgh in his return from the injured list. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has been hampered by a strain in his upper back. “I’m not out of the woods,” he said. “I got to still take care of this, got to do all the treatment, got to do all the strengthening and really focus on that so I can build up the intensity in the game.”
Cubs: C Willson Contreras (right hamstring strain) is expected to ramp up his activity when he travels with the team to New York for next week’s series against the Mets.
Cubs left-hander José Quintana (11-7, 3.91 ERA) looks to continue his career-best win streak Saturday. Quintana is 7-0 with a 2.96 ERA in his past nine starts. Right-hander Joe Ross (3-3, 5.48 ERA) starts for the Nationals.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports