Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg is on the mound this afternoon at PNC Park.
Whatever the case, all eyes will be on Strasburg this afternoon as he faces the Pirates in what kind of amounts to a must-win game for the right-hander. OK, maybe he doesn't need to actually earn the W, but he certainly needs to pitch well and put to rest any questions about the state of his arm.
The Nationals once again are forced to go with a different-looking lineup because of injury. Denard Span is out today after fouling a couple of pitches off his ankle last night. That ankle was taped up after the game, and Span was limping around a bit. We'll get an update on his condition soon. In the meantime, Roger Bernadina takes over in center field and Danny Espinosa gets a rare chance to lead off.
Note the different broadcast circumstances for today's game, both on TV and radio, below. Game updates to come, so please check back...
WASHINGTON NATIONALS at PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Where: PNC Park
Gametime: 4:05 p.m. EDT
TV: Fox regional (coverage map here)
Radio: WNEW (99.1 FM), WJFK (106.7 FM, JIP), XM 184
Weather: Partly cloudy, 69 degrees, Wind 14 mph in from CF
2B Danny Espinosa
SS Ian Desmond
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
RF Tyler Moore
C Wilson Ramos
CF Roger Bernadina
RHP Stephen Strasburg
LF Starling Marte
RF Travis Snider
CF Andrew McCutchen
1B Garrett Jones
C Russell Martin
3B Pedro Alvarez
2B Jordy Mercer
SS Clint Barmes
LHP Jeff Locke
HP John Hirschbeck (cc)
1B Bob Davidson
2B Jim Reynolds
3B James Hoye
4:06 p.m. — And we're underway with a fastball from Jeff Locke to Danny Espinosa for strike one. Another beautiful (if a bit windy) day here in Pittsburgh.
4:11 p.m. — And Locke retires the side on 10 pitches, getting Espinosa and Bryce Harper to ground out weakly to first base and Ian Desmond to strike out looking at an inside fastball. Here's Stephen Strasburg.
4:19 p.m. — It wasn't a perfect bottom of the first for Strasburg — he plunked Starling Marte on an 0-2 pitch, then let him steal second and take third on Wilson Ramos' throwing error — but overall it was a good first inning for the right-hander. He got ahead of everybody, threw 11 of 15 pitches for strikes and struck out both Travis Snider and Andrew McCutchen. That's his first scoreless first inning in four tries, so that's progress in itself. 0-0 after one.
4:29 p.m. — A golden opportunity for the Nats in the top of the second after Adam LaRoche and Tyler Moore drew consecutive, one-out walks. But Wilson Ramos killed the rally with a 6-4-3 double play. It's gone a bit unnoticed with Zimmerman, LaRoche and Espinosa slumping, but Ramos is now 0-for-8 since coming off the DL. The Nats need to get him going to provide more of a threat at the bottom of the lineup.
4:35 p.m. — Two scoreless in the books for Strasburg, has been pretty sharp so far. Eighteen of 24 pitches for strikes, hasn't let the Pirates hit the ball out of the infield so far. Zimmerman, meanwhile, made a routine throw to get Jordy Mercer to end the second. Not 100 percent accurate, but still on target enough. Scoreless through two.
4:43 p.m. — They don't have a hit yet, but the Nats do have a run, thanks to Ian Desmond's sac fly to the wall in center, scoring Roger Bernadina from third. Bernadina reached when he was hit by a pitch, then advanced to third when Strasburg pulled back a bunt attempt and chopped a ball to short, surprising Clint Barmes so much he threw the ball away. But Espinosa put forth an awful at-bat after that. With runners on the corners and nobody out, pretty much the only thing Danny could do wrong there was not put the ball in play. So what did he do? Took three strikes. Fortunately, Desmond picked him up, so the Nats lead 1-0 in the middle of the third.
4:53 p.m. — Davey Johnson talked this morning about the need for Strasburg to go right after hitters, not nibble at the corners and get ahead in the count. Well, here's the downside to that: Strasburg grooved a first-pitch fastball right down the middle to Marte, and the Pirates leadoff man crushed it to right-center for a two-run homer. Just like that, the Nats are down 2-1 after three.
5:02 p.m. — If you were wondering whether Zimmerman's hamstring is OK, here's one way to find out: Have him hit a triple. Seriously. Zim poked a ball down into the left field corner, where it then scooted past Marte, so he had to turn on the afterburners and chug his way to third base for his second triple of the season. Good thing, because that allowed him to score on LaRoche's sacrifice fly to right. LaRoche really has been making better contact during this road trip. He won't have a hit to show for it there, but he does get an RBI. Nats and Bucs now tied 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth.
5:09 p.m. — Good stuff from Strasburg to get out of the fourth inning following a leadoff single by Garrett Jones. He induced a double-play grounder out of Russell Martin, then made Pedro Alvarez look silly on three straight offspeed pitches (a curveball and two changeups). Still 2-2 after four.
5:24 p.m. — Though he's been better today, Strasburg still is having trouble with leadoff hitters. He's now allowed the leadoff man to reach in four of five innings. And in each case, that runner wound up scoring on a subsequent home run. Strasburg grooved a 1-0 fastball to Clint Barmes and the light-hitting shortstop crushed it into the bullpen for the second two-run homer off Strasburg already today. Pirates lead 4-2 after five, and Strasburg does not look happy about it.
5:45 p.m. — And the Nats come storming back to tie the game, thanks to a much-needed clutch hit from Ramos. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Moore came to the plate facing as good of a matchup as he'll ever get, with a left-handed reliever (Justin Wilson) on the mound. But Moor struck out on four pitches, so that left it up to Ramos to deliver, which he did. He roped a hard grounder up the middle, bringing home two runs. So it's now 4-4 as we go to the bottom of the sixth.
5:57 p.m. — Strasburg continues to walk a tightrope. He's now allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base in 10 of his last 12 innings, a staggering rate that has forced him to pitch out of the stretch way more than he should. To his credit, Strasburg has effectively used his changeup today to record some big strikeouts when he's needed them, including on both Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez in the bottom of the sixth just now. It remains 4-4 as we go to the seventh.
6:13 p.m. — Yet another opportunity for the Nats in the seventh, though this time they can't convert. Wilson walked Zimmerman and LaRoche in succession with two outs — LaRoche, by the way, has zero official at-bats in four plate appearances today, three walks and a sac fly — so Hurdle brought in right-hander Bryan Morris to face Moore. And Moore promptly struck out. So he's now stranded six men on base in the last two innings, all without ever putting the ball in play. That's not good. Still 4-4 at the stretch, Strasburg still on the mound.
6:19 p.m. — A strong finish to Strasburg's up-and-down afternoon. He retired the side quickly in the bottom of the seventh. Due up third now, he's probably done for the day. His line: 7 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 2 HBP, 2 HR, 94 pitches. Still 4-4.
6:28 p.m. — The Nats keep giving themselves opportunities, but they can't make the most of them. Despite getting two on with two out in the eighth, Desmond lined the first pitch he saw from Tony Watson to right to end the inning and strand two more runners on base. One interesting side note: Jayson Werth had his helmet on and bat in hand in the dugout just now, perhaps trying to convince Davey he could pinch-hit for Strasburg. Davey would have none of it, sending Steve Lombardozzi instead to the plate. (Lombardozzi beat out an infield single, by the way.) So it's still 4-4 as we go to the bottom of the eighth, with Tyler Clippard in from the bullpen. No decision for Strasburg today. He remains winless since Opening Day.
6:38 p.m. — Nifty play from Clippard to snag Jones' line drive comebacker and then fire to first to double up McCutchen and end the eighth inning. It's still 4-4 here as we go to the ninth. Harper, Zimmerman and LaRoche due up for the Nats.
6:57 p.m. — OK, who saw this one coming? A gimpy Zimmerman (who was plunked on the left knee by Tony Watson) and noted speedster LaRoche pulled off a double-steal without drawing a throw, in the ninth inning of a tie game. Sweet Fancy Moses! That surprise move paid off, too, because Moore finally delivered a productive at-bat in a big spot, lofting a sac fly to right to score Zimmerman and give the Nats a 5-4 lead. Rafael Soriano in for the bottom of the ninth, seeking to close this one out.
7:04 p.m. — That's it. The Nats eek out a 5-4 victory, a much-needed one at that. Clippard gets the win. Soriano gets the save. Moore gets the game-winning RBI.