Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann tries to pitch the Nationals to a two-game sweep of the Pirates.
It kind of got lost in last night's game, but Harper nearly homered for the third straight day, settling instead for his first career triple. He's now slugging .460 in 17 big-league games. Not bad for a 19-year-old. Not bad at all.
The Nationals can only hope to keep this offensive surge going tonight against the Pirates and in the process give Jordan Zimmermann some much-deserved run support. Despite earning a quality start in each of his seven outings this season, the right-hander's record entering tonight is a disappointing 2-3.
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PITTSBURGH PIRATES at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 184
Weather: Clear, 72 degrees, Wind 7 mph in from 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 Jordan Zimmermann
LF Jose Tabata
2B Neil Walker
CF Andrew McCutchen
3B Pedro Alvarez
RF Garrett Jones
1B Casey McGehee
C Rod Barajas
SS Josh Harrison
RHP James McDonald
HP Alan Porter, 1B Larry Vanover, 2B Brian Gorman (cc), 3B Tony Randazzo
7:05 p.m. -- Jordan Zimmermann starts off Jose Tabata with a fastball for strike one, and we are underway on a gorgeous, 74-degree night in the nation's capital.
7:12 p.m. -- The good news: Zimmermann's curveball appears to be devastating tonight. He made both Tabata and Neil Walker look silly flailing away at those Uncle Charlies in striking out both batters to start the game. The bad news: Zimmermann's fastball wasn't quite as effective, especially when it was thrown to Andrew McCutchen, who poked it over the right-field fence for his ninth homer in 22-plus career games against the Nationals. This just in: That guy is really good. The Pirates take an early 1-0 lead.
7:19 p.m. -- Let's play this game again ... The good news: Ian Desmond worked the count! Battled his way through a nine-pitch at-bat to open the bottom of the first. The bad news: He took a 3-2 fastball from James McDonald on the outside corner for strike three. It was a borderline call, but did appear to nick the outside corner. McDonald then retired Roger Bernadina on a groundball to second and Ryan Zimmerman on a nasty slider to end the first inning.
7:30 p.m. -- If someone would like to tell me how Zimmermann's 2-2 pitch to Josh Harrison wasn't a strike, I'd love to hear an explanation. Everybody in a Nationals uniform took a step toward the dugout after that pitch. Except umpire Alan Porter called it a ball, so everyone had to re-assume their positions. And of course Zimmermann gave up a single to Harrison on the very next pitch. It didn't wind up causing any real damage, though it did force the right-hander to throw a few more pitches to finish the second inning. He's already at 41 for the game. Still 1-0 Pirates.
7:40 p.m. -- McDonald's breaking ball is untouchable so far. He's struck out five of six batters through two innings, all on breaking balls. Threw four straight to Bryce Harper, too.
7:50 p.m. -- McCutchen comes THISCLOSE to clubbing yet another home run, only to have it veer just foul down the left-field line. And fortunately for the Nats, Zimmermann managed to get him to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the third. He's at 56 pitches, though. Wouldn't expect him to go too deep into this game.
7:54 p.m. -- Who does James McDonald think he is, Stephen Strasburg? He struck out seven of the first eight batters he faced tonight before Zimmermann (of all people) finally laced a line drive to center field. It was still caught, but hey, at least he made contact! Still 1-0 Bucs after three.
8:05 p.m. -- Rod Barajas has three homers this season. Two of them have come against the Nats, including a 2-run bomb to left just now off an inside fastball. Zimmermann not looking too sharp tonight. He and the Nats now trail 3-0 in the fourth.
8:11 p.m. -- Wow, sure looked like Bernadina's hand got to first base just a hair before McDonald's foot on a bang-bang play in the bottom of the fourth. Might have to remember that call by Larry Vanover if this game continues the way it's currently going. Which has featured 12 Nationals stepping to the plate and all 12 being retired by McDonald, nine via strikeout. They can't touch him right now.
8:17 p.m. -- Zimmermann settles down with a 1-2-3 top of the fifth. Also, if you're wondering if this game is a fluke, it should be noted that McDonald has already carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning of another game this year: April 25 against the Rockies.
8:27 p.m. -- Well, Bryce Harper did draw a one-out walk in the top of the fifth. But that's the only baserunner the Nats have produced so far tonight against McDonald. He's also go 10 strikeouts.
8:35 p.m. -- Hey, what do you know? Andrew McCutchen homered. Again. That's his 10th in 22-plus games against the Nats. And it puts the Pirates up 4-0 in the sixth as McDonald takes the mound for the bottom of the inning.
8:58 p.m. -- So, uh, that was kind of an interesting inning, huh? It began with a Jesus Flores double, ending McDonald's no-hit bid. It continued with a Steve Lombardozzi double ... that didn't score Flores (who missed Bo Porter waving him around). It looked like the Nats wouldn't score at all, but then Ryan Zimmerman delivered a much-needed, two-out, two-run single to right. And then scored seconds later on Adam LaRoche's ... triple. Yes, triple. One day after he only needed one of those to hit for the cycle. A major assist to left fielder Jose Tabata, who could not have misplayed that ball off the wall any worse than he did. Still, it goes in the books as the 10th triple of LaRoche's career, his first since Aug. 3, 2010 against ... the Nats. So after all that, it's now 4-3 Pirates as Craig Stammen enters for the seventh.
9:08 p.m. -- There's a rare event, indeed. Stammen gave up a run. Thus, it's now a 5-3 deficit as we reach the seventh-inning stretch.
9:28 p.m. -- Golden opportunity for the Nats to tie the game in a bottom of the seventh that seemingly wouldn't end. Runners on second and third, one out. But Lombardozzi tapped a comebacker for out No. 2, and Desmond struck out swinging at a slider from Juan Cruz (his third K of the night). So it remains 5-3 as we go to the eighth.
9:45 p.m. -- Nothin' happenin' in the bottom of the eighth as Jason Grilli strikes out Zimmerman and gets LaRoche and Harper to fly out to center. So the Nats are down to their last three outs. Still 5-3.
10:05 p.m. -- It's over. Joel Hanrahan shuts the door in the bottom of the ninth and hands the Nats a 5-3 loss. Combined with the Braves' lopsided win over the Marlins, the Nationals now find themselves back in second place in the NL East.