Jun 19, 2015, 3:26 PM EDT
So, the Nationals have lost 14 of their last 20 games, and they were already without Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman in their lineup. And now they watched as Bryce Harper suffered what at first glance appeared to be a serious left leg injury Thursday night, though was officially announced after the game by manager Matt Williams as a “mild” hamstring strain.
The last thing this team needs right now is to face the hottest club in the majors, with a pitching staff putting up historic numbers at the moment, but that’s the situation staring them in the face. The Pirates come to town on an 8-game winning streak, with a rotation that has allowed one earned run during that streak. Yes, one.
So that’s the challenge tonight for the Nats, who won’t have Harper in the lineup — the real surprise would’ve been him playing — against veteran right-hander A.J. Burnett. Struggling Ian Desmond also gets only his second game of the season off, with Danny Espinosa at shortstop and Tyler Moore at first base. Rookie Joe Ross, meanwhile, makes what probably would be his final start for the Nationals before a likely demotion to the minors to clear space for Stephen Strasburg’s pending return next week.
Updates to come, so please check back…
PITTSBURGH PIRATES at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, Ch. 9, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, 1500 AM, XM 183
Weather: Chance of rain, 82 degrees, Wind 7 mph LF to RF
CF Denard Span
2B Anthony Rendon
3B Yunel Escobar
RF Clint Robinson
C Wilson Ramos
SS Danny Espinosa
1B Tyler Moore
LF Michael Taylor
RHP Joe Ross
2B Josh Harrison
LF Starling Marte
CF Andrew McCutchen
3B Jung Ho Kang
1B Pedro Alvarez
C Francisco Cervelli
RF Gregory Polanco
SS Jordy Mercer
RHP A.J. Burnett
HP Mike Winters (cc)
1B Mike Muchlinski
2B Sean Barber
3B Mark Wegner
7:05 p.m. — This game is underway on a muggy Friday night in the District. Looks like it’s going to be a large crowd here, though there is plenty of black and gold sprinkled among the red in the stands.
7:26 p.m. — Well, how about that first inning from the Nats? It began with Joe Ross retiring the side, capped with a 3-pitch strikeout of notorious Nats-killer Andrew McCutchen (he had struck out only 18 times in 147 career plate appearances against Washington). Then the Nats manufactured two runs in the bottom of the inning off A.J. Burnett, with singles from Denard Span and Anthony Rendon (the latter a perfect hit-and-run), an RBI groundout from Yunel Escobar (with Rendon running on the pitch to help avoid a double play) and a 2-out double to right-center from Wilson Ramos. Pirates starters have not given up more than two runs in any of their last eight games. The Nats just got two in the first inning.
7:55 p.m. — The Nats had another golden opportunity in the bottom of the second, loading the bases with one out for Anthony Rendon. (That one out came when Ross failed to get a bunt down, which proved costly.) Rendon had homered three times off Burnett last year, but this time he grounded into a dagger of a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. Prior to that, the Pirates strung together three singles off Ross, so the lead is down to 2-1 after two.
8:06 p.m. — How about Wilson Ramos tonight? He’s 2-for-2 with a pair of RBI hits, both of them sharp line drives to the big part of the field. That’s a really encouraging sign, and it has the Nats up 3-1 after three.
8:24 p.m. — Man, the Nats put 11 of their first 20 batters on base against Burnett, 10 of them via hits, but they only have three runs to show for it so far. Escobar had a chance to blow the game open in the bottom of the fourth, with the bases loaded and two out, but he grounded the first pitch he saw to third base to end the inning. Ross, meanwhile, has seven strikeouts (including four in a row) through four very impressive innings. Still 3-1 Nats.
8:40 p.m. — Make it 11 hits for the Nats in five innings, but still only three runs. You hope that doesn’t come back to haunt them. It won’t if they keep getting circus catches at the left field wall like Michael Taylor provided to end the top of the inning, robbing Josh Harrison of extra bases and an RBI. Ross now has nine strikeouts (a career-high, albeit in a brief career) through five. Still 3-1 Nats.
8:57 p.m. — Another man in scoring position for the Nats in the sixth, but they couldn’t bring him home. They’ve had 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position through six innings. They’ve gone 4-for-16 with three runs.
9:19 p.m. — Big insurance run for the Nats in the bottom of the seventh, with Espinosa roping an RBI triple off the wall in right-center. (Gregory Polanco face-planted the chain-link fence and had to leave the game.) So it’s 4-1 Nats as Ross takes the mound for the eighth sitting on 96 pitches and 11 strikeouts.
9:27 p.m. — Ross got a chance to pitch the eighth, but as soon as he allowed a 1-hit single, that was it for him. No worries, because David Carpenter finished the inning, giving him four scoreless appearances since joining the Nats bullpen. It remains 4-1 as Drew Storen begins to warm for the ninth.
9:41 p.m. — Ballgame. Storen notches his 20th save and the Nats win 4-1 behind a brilliant pitching performance from Joe Ross and a couple of opportunistic hits from a depleted lineup. They snap the Pirates’ 8-game win streak in the process.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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