Results tagged ‘ Pittsburgh Pirates ’

What to Watch for: 7.23.13

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Pittsburgh Pirates (58-39) vs. Washington Nationals (48-51)

 RHP Gerrit Cole (4-3, 3.89) vs. RHP Taylor Jordan (0-2, 3.32)

The Nationals continue their homestand with a battle of two right-handed rookies, as Taylor Jordan and Gerrit Cole square off in D.C. Jordan is still in search of his first Major League win, despite pitching well thus far.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Harper LF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Werth RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Span CF

8. Ramos C

9. Jordan RHP

WERTH-WHILE READING

By homering twice on both Monday vs. Pittsburgh and Sunday vs. Los Angeles, Jayson Werth became the first National (2005-present) to hit two home runs in consecutive games. The last franchise player to accomplish this feat: Expos outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, September 17-18, 2000. Werth is batting .322 (48-for-147) with 20 walks, seven doubles, 10 home runs, 25 runs scored, 29 RBI, and a .402 OBP in 41 games since returning from the DL (right hamstring) on June 4. Werth’s 1.152 OPS in July ranks third in the NL behind only Hanley Ramirez (1.197) and Andrew McCutchen (1.118).

NATIONALS FACE ANOTHER ROOKIE

Gerrit Cole will be the 12th different rookie starter the Nationals have faced this season (the other 11: Tony Cingrani, Robbie Erlin, Jose Fernandez, Kevin Gausman, Donovan Hand, Shelby Miller, Wily Peralta, Jonathan Pettibone, Burch Smith, Julio Teheran (faced three times) and Zack Wheeler. Washington is 6-7 when facing these rookie starters in 2013.

SPAN’S FANS

As he does once every month during the season, Nationals center fielder Denard Span hosted his “Span’s Fans” event before the team took on the Pirates. Span’s Fans is a season-long program that treats children from single-parent families to a day of Nationals baseball. The group will enjoyed a private meet and greet with Span as well as a special batting practice viewing and tickets to the game, complete with NatsBucks.

What to Watch for: 7.22.13

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Pittsburgh Pirates (57-39) vs. Washington Nationals (48-50)

 RHP Charlie Morton (1-2, 3.19) vs. RHP Dan Haren (4-10, 5.61) 

The Nationals welcome the Pittsburgh Pirates for the second series of their current 10-day, 11-game homestand, with the four-game set kicking off tonight. Washington will send Dan Haren to the mound in a battle of right-handers as the club looks to halt its three-game slide.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Harper LF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Werth RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Span CF

8. Ramos C

9. Haren RHP

DAN IN REAL LIFE

Although the Nationals have lost the last 10 games Dan Haren has started, the veteran right-hander has been sharp since coming off the disabled list, carrying a 10.0-inning scoreless streak into tonight’s start. The righty has fanned five or more batters in seven of his last nine outings, and has punched out 45 in his last 42.2 innings of work.

A WERTHY RETURN

Jayson Werth is batting .322 (46-for-143) with 20 walks, seven doubles, eight home runs, 23 runs scored, 25 RBI and a .400 OBP in 40 games since returning from the DL (right hamstring) on June 4. Werth’s 1.061 OPS in July ranks fifth in the National League, behind only Hanley Ramirez (1.204), Jonathan Lucroy (1.150), Andrew McCutchen (1.113) and Brian McCann (1.109).

IF THE SCHU FITS

The Nationals announced Monday that they have promoted minor league hitting coordinator Rick Schu to the Major League level. Schu has spent the past four years with the Nationals and has been a coach for 16 seasons following a nine-year big league career. Schu has worked with current Nationals Bryce Harper, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina in the minors, as well as both Chad Tracy and Scott Hairston during his time with Arizona (2004, ’07-09), where he served as the Diamondbacks hitting coach.

The Second “Half”

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There has been plenty written about the Nationals the past few days and what it will take for them to play in October this season.

We’ll leave the “to reach x wins, they need to go xx-xx the rest of the way” predictions to others. As Davey Johnson and his troops have expressed over recent weeks, what the team needs to do is play at the level its capable of with more consistency. It doesn’t really matter how many games are left, or against whom. We all know this team is capable – when they are playing their best – of beating anyone.

Davey Johnson is looking for more consistency from his club in the second half.

Davey Johnson is looking for more consistency from his club in the second half.

They’ll get their first test immediately out of the All-Star break. The suddenly hot Los Angeles Dodgers come to town to open an 11-game, 10-day homestand, during which they will throw recently acquired Nationals nemesis Ricky Nolasco, along with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Things don’t get easier from there, as the contending Pittsburgh Pirates visit for four games beginning next week. The homestand concludes with a Matt Harvey-headlined doubleheader followed by a pair of weekend games against the scrappy New York Mets.

Of course, the Nationals will counter with arguable the healthiest team they’ve fielded since the first week of the season. With the lineup at full strength, the only pieces missing are Ross Detwiler and Ryan Mattheus, both expected back off the disabled list soon. Washington will also be throwing Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann in the three Dodgers games, putting its own best pitching foot forward. Dan Haren, who has a 1.64 ERA (2 ER/11.0 IP) and 14 strikeouts in his two outings since his own return from the DL may be starting to show signs of being the solid veteran pickup that Mike Rizzo and company were hoping for when they signed him last offseason. With Taylor Jordan solidly holding down the fort at the back of the rotation in the meantime, the starting staff looks poised to lead the way.

Meanwhile, Rafael Soriano has closed out 25 of 29 save opportunities with a 2.25 ERA on the season. Tyler Clippard has been one of the best relievers in the game, winning six games out of the ‘pen while posting better than a strikeout per inning and a sub-2.00 ERA. Ian Krol and Fernando Abad have given Washington two lefty relievers they did not have at the beginning of the year, both joining Clippard in the sub-2.00 club thus far. Factor in some solid contributions out of the long-man spot by Ross Ohlendorf (2-0, 1.74 ERA) and the bullpen looks as solid as it has all year.

It’s taken a few months for all these pieces to come together and be on the field at the same time. But with a fully rested and healthy squad coming back from the All-Star break, these Nationals look as well constructed as they have been all year to finally put together the extended run that has thus far eluded them, the one they all know they will need to bring October NATITUDE back to The District.

One Good Ross Deserves Another

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The Nationals were expecting a lift from a player named Ross in this Colorado series, but it came a day earlier than anticipated. With the club slated to get Ross Detwiler back off the Disabled List on Thursday, it was Ross Ohlendorf – summoned from Triple-A Syracuse for a spot-start against a strong Rockies lineup at Coors Field – who provided an enormous performance Wednesday night.

Ohlendorf allowed just a single run on two hits over six innings of work as the Nationals emerged with a 5-1 victory to get back to the .500 mark at 32-32. The right-hander had enjoyed recent success at Syracuse, where he compiled a 1.56 ERA and 27 strikeouts over his final 17.1 innings of work. But his performance against the Rockies exceeded all reasonable expectations.

Ross Ohlendorf delivered a huge performance Wednesday night.

Ross Ohlendorf delivered a huge performance Wednesday night.

“I’ve been feeling really good all season,” said Ohlendorf, who has experienced a spike in his velocity and has seen his slider improve lately. “It’s the best I’ve felt in a long time.”

Ohlendorf had not pitched at Coors Field since July 28, 2010, when he was a member of the Pirates. With two outs in the first inning of that contest, Troy Tulowitzki ripped a liner back up the middle and off Ohledorf’s head, knocking him out of the ballgame. Nearly three years later, Ohlendorf took control in Denver.

“He used all his pitches, he went right after them,” said Davey Johnson when asked the most impressive aspect of the right-hander’s performance. “That ain’t easy in this ballpark.”

Johnson went on to indicate what the club made official today, that Ohlendorf’s tenure with the Nationals would last longer than just last night’s six sparkling innings.

“I’m going to try to find a way to keep him around,” Johnson said.

As Detwiler returns for Thursday’s start, the Nationals chose instead to option right-handed reliever Erik Davis to Triple-A Syracuse, where he will be available when the big league team again needs his services. Meanwhile, Ohlendorf will remain as the long man and emergency starter out of the Washington bullpen, giving the Nationals a Major League first.

With Detwiler’s activation, the Nationals become the first Major League team to ever employ a pair of players named Ross (though Ohlendorf’s first name is actually Curtis – Ross is his middle name). But that’s not the first bit of MLB history the two Ross’s have made. Detwiler’s first Major League start came at home against Pittsburgh on May 18, 2009, where he was opposed by none other than Ohlendorf, making them the first two players named Ross ever to face-off against one another in the Majors.

Traveling Party

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Pittsburgh is a classic American sports town, full of multi-generational, die-hard fans. While the football and hockey teams have enjoyed more recent success than the Pirates, the bloodlines connecting each sport run deep through the town. With a proud history from Honus Wagner and Ralph Kiner to Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, baseball has had a home in the Steel City since the late 1800s, and now calls beautiful PNC Park – with a picturesque, skyline view of downtown across the river – its home.

Perhaps there is something to the solidarity of the yellow and black jerseys worn by each team – the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins – or the fact that all play their games within close proximity, as the athletic venues each now reside in the same riverfront neighborhood. But even the fact that the Pirates own the longest stretch of consecutive losing seasons in any professional sport (20 and counting, entering the 2013 campaign) isn’t enough to dampen enthusiasm, or keep the fans away.

There are nice touches at the ballpark that are uniquely Pittsburgh as well. Their version of the Racing Presidents (who took part in the festivities this weekend) are the Pierogies, a local food staple of the eastern Europeans who first settled the city. After victories, they “raise the Jolly Roger,” hoisting a Pirate flag above the ballpark. And, up in the press box, you’ll find Rick, who has worked for the club for 10 years. He owns five different classic Pirates jerseys, and sports whichever one matches best with what the team on the field dons that particular game, along with his throwback handlebar moustache.

But for all the tradition, spectators at PNC Park were treated, for lack of a better word, to something they had never heard before this weekend. As Washington plated six runs in the series-winning victory on Sunday, a chant rose up from a select few in the upper bowl.

Those who have attended a Nationals game in D.C. over the past few years have no doubt become accustomed to, or perhaps even joined in on the rallying cry of “N-A-T-S Nats Nats Nats” that accompanies each score by the hometown nine. But hearing it happen on the road, drawing the ire of the hometown fans, was signified something of a first. It only highlighted just how many red jerseys, t-shirts and Curly W’s were on display in western Pennsylvania this weekend.

The Pirates had averaged just 20,616 fans through their first 12 openings of the season, but saw more than 80,000 spectators over the three-game set, despite playing against a Penguins home playoff game Friday night and the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday morning. Saturday’s contest drew 29,975, the largest crowd since Opening Day, but a decent percentage of those in attendance sported red, not the hometown yellow and black.

Two of those who made the trek included Burt and Lynn, who patrolled the grounds outside the park several hours before first pitch on Friday afternoon. Lynn sported her Ross Detwiler jersey T-shirt in support of his start that night, and the two of them took in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. It marked their first trip to Pittsburgh, and they were hardly alone.

The Nationals already set April attendance records at home, drawing over a half-million fans in the season’s opening month for the first time. But that trend has extended beyond the banks of the Anacostia, where the likes of Burt and Lynn have joined a growing group of Nationals fans bringing the comforts of the ever-growing home field advantage on the road.

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The Good Fight

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A quick glance at the final box score may suggest that Washington enjoyed a rather comfortable victory in its rubber match triumph on Sunday. But the series finale in Pittsburgh began about as poorly as one could possibly draw it up for the Nationals. They went three up, three down in the top of the first, culminating in Bryce Harper’s check swing strikeout, after which he was ejected by third base umpire and crew chief John Hirschbeck.

The bottom of the first didn’t get any better. Starling Marte hit Gio Gonzalez’s first pitch over the wall, Jordy Mercer followed with a double, and Ryan Zimmerman’s throw to first on a grounder by Andrew McCutchen hit the runner in the back. After a walk to Gaby Sanchez, the bases were loaded with nobody out.

Gio Gonzalez averted disaster in the first on the way to six strong innings.

Gio Gonzalez averted disaster in the first on the way to six strong innings.

The afternoon could well have been over right there. But Gonzalez locked in and fanned Russell Martin swinging, then Michael McKenry looking. With two outs, Brandon Inge sent a grounder past Gonzalez up the middle, but a rangy play and a strong throw across his body by Ian Desmond beat the runner to first, and the Nationals escaped with just the single run of damage.

“It just felt like the momentum shifted,” said Gonzalez after his first-inning Houdini act. “A younger me would have probably spiraled out of control, trying to be too much, trying to do too much.”

Instead, the Nationals got that run back immediately, as Zimmerman drew a leadoff walk to start the second inning, moved to third on Adam LaRoche’s double and scored on Danny Espinosa’s sac fly deep to center field, knotting the game at 1-1. The game remained deadlocked until Espinosa’s next at-bat, when he got into a two-out, two-strike hanging curveball from Wandy Rodriguez and punished it deep into the left field seats for a two-run shot, putting Washington ahead for good.

“He didn’t really try to crush it, he just met it,” said Davey Johnson of Espinosa’s swing. “Of course, he’s so strong, it went a long way.”

In a sense, that approach has been emblematic of the Nationals in general this year, where they may have pressed too much out of the gates. They are such a strong team that simply meeting the challenges in front of them should yield positive results.

The Pirates clawed back within a run in the sixth, but again Gonzalez stranded a big runner, leaving Martin at third base as the potential tying run. The start – six innings of two-run ball with two walks and five strikeouts – was much more like the Gonzalez Nationals fans got to know last year, when he won 21 games.

“He was the old Gio,” said Johnson after the game. “I hadn’t seen that grin in a long time.”

Tyler Moore's late blast gave Washington some breathing room.

Tyler Moore’s late blast gave Washington some breathing room.

The contest remained a one-run game until late, when Washington got some fitting redemption for the first-inning antics. With one out and Roger Bernadina at second base, the Pirates elected to walk LaRoche to get to Tyler Moore, who had gone down looking three times in as many trips. Moore fell behind 1-2, then checked his swing at a pitch out of the zone, with the home side appealing down to first base umpire Jim Reynolds, who signaled no swing. Moore annihilated the next pitch to left field for a three-run bomb to put the game out of reach.

“It fires you up a little bit,” said Moore of the intentional walk ahead of him, before quickly couching his statement. “But you can’t blame them. I would have done the same thing. LaRoche was swinging a good bat and I was struggling early.”

There have been a number of games so far this season where an early miscue or unfortunate turn would alter the mood, portending a feeling of, “Here we go again.” Sunday’s contest in Pittsburgh provided the most amount of early trouble to overcome in any victory thus far in the young season. Those feelings crept up upon Harper’s ejection, grew stronger after Marte’s leadoff home run, and were at full boil with the bases loaded and no outs in the first.

But just as it turned around a road trip that saw the club lose the first two games at rival Atlanta, Washington rebounded Sunday to make it four wins in five days to close the trip, mostly low-scoring, tightly-played affairs that leaned on the good pitching and solid defensive foundation upon which this roster was constructed. If the final game of the trip does mark a turning point in the campaign, it may also well serve as a microcosm of the season as a whole. After struggling from the outset and encountering some adversity, cooler heads prevailed on the way to victory.

Highlights: 5.5.13

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5.5.13 – Nationals 6, Pirates 2

Stat of the Game: Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore each both homered on two-strike pitches and each accounted for three RBI, combining for all of Washington’s offense. 

Under-the-Radar Performance: After allowing the first four batters of the game to reach base, Gio Gonzalez finished six strong innings with only two runs allowed to earn his third victory.

It Was Over When: Moore swatted his three-run blast in the top of the eight to open up a four-run advantage.

What to Watch for: 5.5.13

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Washington Nationals (16-15) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (17-13)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (2-2, 5.34) vs. LHP Wandy Rodriguez (2-1, 3.91)

The Nationals enter Sunday with a chance at both a series victory and a winning road trip before heading back to Washington. The rubber match with the Pirates will feature a pair of southpaws as Gio Gonzalez and Wandy Rodriguez each toe the rubber in search of their third win of the season.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Desmond SS

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Moore RF

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Ramos C

9. Gonzalez LHP

QUITE A STEAL

Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche conspired on a shocking double steal in the ninth inning Saturday to set up the winning score. It was the first time in Zimmerman’s nine-year Major League career that he has ever swiped third base, and was just the seventh steal total for LaRoche in 1214 career games.

SERIES BUSINESS

Washington enters Sunday’s series finale at PNC Park having not yet homered in the series. The Nationals have hit at least one home run in 65 straight series dating to September 2011. The last time Washington played a homerless series was during a four-game set at Citi Field, September 12-15, 2011, a series they nonetheless swept, 4-0.

CATT’S MEOW

In 12 games dating to April 23, Steve McCatty’s starting staff has fashioned a 2.96 ERA (26 ER/79.0 IP) thanks in part to a 3.5/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .218 batting average against.

Stealing A Win

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Over the course of a 162-game season, you have to find any number of different ways to win games to have a successful year. While the Nationals never really came up with the big hit they were looking for on Saturday, they nonetheless discovered a new and creative way to snag a crucial 5-4 road victory over the Pirates, setting them up for a possible series win to close the road trip.

After not hitting a sacrifice fly since April 17 – a span of 16 games – Washington hit three on Saturday, accounting for 60 percent of its scoring. The third and final one proved to be the difference, and was set up by perhaps the unlikeliest turn of events possible, a double-steal from Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche. Not only was it the first stolen base for either player this season, but it was the first time Zimmerman had ever stolen third in his career. Both got such a good jump off Pirates reliever Tony Watson that catcher Russell Martin could not even get a throw off.

Ryan Zimmerman is greeted at home plate after scoring the game-winning run.

Ryan Zimmerman is greeted at home plate after scoring the game-winning run.

“I would have thought those were the last two guys that were going to steal,” said Tyler Moore, who apparently wasn’t alone in that assessment, and who delivered the third and final sacrifice fly moments later to plate Zimmerman with winning run. “But they got it done. That was huge. Trent (Jewett) had the guts to send them, and it ended up winning us the ballgame.”

Sometimes that’s exactly what a team needs to get going. Other than Wilson Ramos’s big two-run single that tied the game in the sixth, the Nationals did not have a hit in their other 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position. But they drew six walks and were thrice hit by pitches to go along with their six base hits, putting constant pressure on the Pittsburgh pitching staff. They had a runner in scoring position in every inning after the first, and middle-of-the-order stalwarts Zimmerman and LaRoche each reached base four times. There were signs of better at-bats, the kind of patient, grind-it-out style that the team showed in its victories early in the season.

So to what should one attribute the change in approach? For one, Davey Johnson held a team meeting, something he does not do often, before the game. Ironically, he did the exact same thing during a lull in the 2012 season, before the 31st game (also started by Stephen Strasburg), against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Not so ironically, the result was the same. The 2012 edition went on to win its next three games and 11 of 17 to follow.

“That’s how you win Manager of the Year right there,” joked Ian Desmond as the media entered the clubhouse after the game, referring to the honor bestowed upon Johnson last year.

Just how much correlation exists in the cause and effect between the meeting and the team’s performance is open to debate. But it’s hard to argue with the results.

Highlights: 5.4.13

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5.4.13 – Nationals 5, Pirates 4

Stat of the Game: Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman each reached base safely four times and each earned their first steal of the season, on a double-steal in the ninth. 

Under-the-Radar Performance: Roger Bernadina made a huge defensive play, gunning down Russell Martin trying to stretch a leadoff single into a double leading off the bottom of the ninth.

It Was Over When: Rafael Soriano whiffed Jordy Mercer to shut the door on his seventh consecutive save opportunity, his 10th in 11 tries overall this season.

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