Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg tries to stop the Nats' losing streak tonight at PNC Park.
Strasburg, of course, can only control how many runs he gives up. He can't control how many runs the Nationals score. Or how many balls they put into play. So plenty of the onus will be on Davey Johnson's lineup, which tonight includes only one minor tweak.
Roger Bernadina will bat second, with Bryce Harper moved down to the 5-hole. The logic, I assume, is that the Pirates won't be able to pitch around cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche like they did last night. But the downside is that Harper may not see a whole lot of pitches to hit himself with the ice-cold Danny Espinosa hitting behind him.
Should make for some interesting discussion. Please check back for updates and analysis throughout...
WASHINGTON NATIONALS at PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Where: PNC Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 183
Weather: Partly cloudy, 58 degrees, Wind 13 mph out to CF
SS Ian Desmond
LF Roger Bernadina
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
RF Bryce Harper
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Rick Ankiel
C Jesus Flores
RHP Stephen Strasburg
RF Jose Tabata
LF Alex Presley
CF Andrew McCutchen
3B Pedro Alvarez
2B Neil Walker
1B Garrett Jones
SS Clint Barmes
C Michael McKenry
RHP Kevin Correia
HP Phil Cuzzi, 1B Greg Gibson, 2B Vic Carapazza, 3B Gerry Davis (cc)
7:06 p.m. -- And we're underway as Ian Desmond lines Kevin Correia's first pitch of the game to right field for an out. After dealing with some nasty weather the last two night, this turned into a very nice evening in the Steel City. It's a bit chilly, 60 degrees, but the skies are clear as this game begins.
7:10 p.m. -- Well, that certainly didn't take long. Correia needed only nine pitches to get through the top of the first, and that included Ryan Zimmerman lining a two-out single to center. Desmond, Roger Bernadina and Adam LaRoche collectively saw a total of four pitches. I know the tendency is to rip on Desmond for hacking at the first pitch so much, but for the record, he's hitting .357 when he puts the first pitch in play this season.
7:18 p.m. -- Andrew McCutchen has been among the hottest hitters in baseball. But he hasn't had to face Stephen Strasburg until now. Strasburg overpowered the Pirates' No. 3 hitter, blowing a 97 mph fastball past him to end the bottom of the first. Ten pitches for Strasburg in the inning, six strikes. We go to the second...
7:25 p.m. -- Part of Davey's message to players during his pregame meeting: "Stay within yourself. Be a good hitter. Get strikes to hit." So naturally, three of the Nats' first six batters have made outs on the first pitch so far. Ugh. On the bright side, Danny Espinosa roped a base hit to center. On the negative side, he was thrown out trying to steal second.
7:32 p.m. -- Yep, Strasburg has struck out four Pirates in a row. Three fastballs and a changeup. Shades of June 8, 2010?
7:52 p.m. -- Make it seven strikeouts in a row for Strasburg, matching his performance from his debut game. Actually, if you go back to that game, Strasburg has now struck out 14 of the last 16 Pirates he's faced. Just astounding.
7:57 p.m. -- Espinosa, yikes. With two on and one out in the fourth, he swung and missed a first-pitch curveball from Correia. Then he swung at another one and grounded into a double play. Danny talked last week about going up to the plate with a plan. I can't imagine swinging at a first-pitch curveball is part of that plan.
8:08 p.m. -- So much for Strasburg's dominance. Not only did his strikeout streak end, he wound up giving up two runs in the bottom of the fourth. It began with Jose Tabata's base hit to center (his second of the night). After a sacrifice bunt (in which Alex Presley may actually have beaten Jesus Flores' throw to first), Andrew McCutchen sent another single to right. And Bryce Harper made an incredibly ill-advised decision to fire a throw to the plate. He had no chance to get Tabata, and because his throw was wild, he allowed McCutchen to take second. It went down as the first error of Harper's career, and it proved costly because moments later, Neil Walker singled to center, bringing McCutchen home with an unearned run. Just like that, the Nats trail 2-0.
8:14 p.m. -- Sometimes, you've got to take matters into your own hands. Strasburg delivers his third double in as many starts. Of course, it went for naught as Desmond popped up on the first pitch to end the top of the fifth. I think it's pretty safe to say these guys are pressing big-time right now. Everybody's trying to be the guy to snap this losing streak. That's the worst way to actually make it happen.
8:24 p.m. -- On the one hand, Strasburg now has 11 strikeouts through five innings. That's the fourth time in 24 career starts he's reached double digits in Ks. And it's the second-highest total of his career, surpassed only by his 14-strikeout debut against these same Pirates. On the other hand, he's given up some really hard-hit balls, including an opposite-field double off the wall by backup catcher Michael McKenry. Strange night so far for Strasburg, who still trails 2-0 as we go to the sixth.
8:37 p.m. -- Sweet Fancy Moses, what just happened in the top of the sixth? Roger Bernadina drives a ball about 440 feet into the back bullpen in left-center. Then after Ryan Zimmerman walked, Adam LaRoche drove one to nearly the exact same spot for his sixth homer of the season. All of a sudden, Strasburg is taking the mound for the bottom of the sixth holding a 3-2 lead. And with 11 strikeouts on his register so far.
8:54 p.m. -- Just when it looked like Strasburg might break, he came up with his biggest pitch of the night, a 2-2, 96 mph fastball past Garrett Jones with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the sixth. Strasburg had surprisingly loaded the bases with three consecutive walks, but he dug down deep to record a huge out on his 103rd pitch of the night. He'll be pinch-hit for in the seventh, so his final line will be: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 13 K, 103 pitches. The Nats are still clinging to a 3-2 lead.
9:07 p.m. -- A 1-2-3 seventh for Ryan Mattheus, preserving the slim lead. This game seems destined to be decided by Henry Rodriguez.
9:15 p.m. -- Another double for LaRoche, who is now hitting .327 for the season. But it goes for naught as Harper strikes out on a 2-2 fastball from left-hander Tony Watson. We go to the eighth, and here comes Tyler Clippard.
9:22 p.m. -- Clippard put a scare into everyone for a moment when he served up a long fly ball to McCutchen, but it fell harmlessly into Ankiel's glove at the warning track. So we head to the ninth, the Nats still clinging to a 3-2 lead.
9:28 p.m. -- Rick Ankiel delivers some much-needed insurance for Rodriguez. A solo blast into the right-field bleachers puts the Nats up 4-2.
9:32 p.m. -- And heeeeere's Henry!
9:45 p.m. -- Ballgame. Rodriguez closes out a 4-2 victory, giving Strasburg the win (he's now 3-0) and ensuring the Nats will remain in first place for the 30th consecutive day.