CHICAGO (AP) — Bryce Harper was pitched very carefully. The rest of Washington's lineup was unable to pick up the slack.

Jayson Werth hit a long two-run homer in the ninth inning, but the Nationals wasted another solid start by Joe Ross when they managed just three hits in a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday night.

"We just didn't square too many balls up," Werth said. "I thought Joe pitched great, again. We were right there. But it's a long series, a four-game series. We just chalk this one up and we got to come back out and get them tomorrow."

Ross (3-1) struck out nine in 6 2/3 innings. The 22-year-old right-hander allowed two runs and five hits, but one rough stretch was enough to send him to his first loss since Aug. 16 at San Francisco.

Kyle Hendricks (2-2) pitched six scoreless innings and Ben Zobrist drove in four runs as Chicago began a 10-game homestand with its fourth consecutive win and eighth in nine games. The Cubs also improved their major league-best record to 21-6 for their best start since they were 23-4 in 1907.

"It's pretty fun, I can tell you that," Hendricks said.

Harper singled and walked twice against Hendricks, but the right-hander shut down the rest of Washington's lineup. Michael Taylor was stranded at second after a two-out double in the third for the Nationals' first hit.

Harper also reached on a leadoff walk in the ninth and scored on Werth's sixth homer. Even with the loss, the Nationals have baseball's second-best record at 19-9.

"The worst overall game we've played in a while, but we were still in the ballgame," manager Dusty Baker said.

Chicago's first four batters in the fourth reached safely, producing two runs. Tommy La Stella singled, Kris Bryant had a ground-rule double and Anthony Rizzo was walked intentionally before Zobrist's single to right gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

Rizzo was thrown out trying to advance to third on Zobrist's hit, and Ross retired the next two hitters to get out of the inning. But the damage was done.

"I wish I could go back to the fourth and start over," Ross said.

Zobrist connected for his third homer and Addison Russell added an RBI double in the eighth, providing some valuable breathing room. After Werth went deep against Travis Wood with two down, Hector Rondon retired Wilson Ramos on a liner to first for the final out.

"The pitching was solid overall," manager Joe Maddon said. "Offensively, it was Zo's night."

MURPHY'S LAW

Washington second baseman Daniel Murphy was greeted with a round of boos when he came to the plate in the second inning. It was Murphy's first game at Wrigley Field since he hit four homers while helping the New York Mets sweep the Cubs in the NL Championship Series last year.

"I wouldn't expect them to cheer an opposing player," Murphy said.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: OF Ben Revere, who is on the disabled list with a right oblique strain, rejoined the team and could be activated soon. "I'd rather wait an extra day, especially because I've seen too many guys say I'm ready and they come back and they do it again," Baker said. "Hopefully he doesn't injure himself again the rest of the year."

Cubs: C Miguel Montero, on the DL with lower back tightness, hit before the game and Maddon said trainer P.J. Mainville was encouraged with his progress.

UP NEXT

Washington ace Max Scherzer (3-1, 3.35 ERA) takes on John Lackey (3-1, 4.32 ERA) in a matchup of veteran right-handers on Friday afternoon. Scherzer is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three career starts at Wrigley. Lackey needs six strikeouts to become the fifth active pitcher with at least 2,000 Ks, joining CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Felix Hernandez and Jake Peavy.

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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap