May 20, 2014, 3:23 PM EST
The Nationals’ lineup — in its current, injury-plagued form — is not particularly effective against right-handed pitching. Their .236 team batting average against righties ranks 23rd in the majors this season. (As opposed to their .284 batting average against left-handers, third-best in baseball.)
So tonight’s matchup against Johnny Cueto does not particularly favor the Nats. Cueto has merely been the best pitcher in baseball so far this season, with a 4-2 record and 1.25 ERA in nine starts. How good has the Reds right-hander been? Historically good. He’s the first pitcher in MODERN BASEBALL HISTORY to pitch at least seven innings and allow fewer than two earned runs in each of his first nine starts of a season. That’s remarkable.
The Nationals, who are forced to go with the likes of Tyler Moore and Kevin Frandsen tonight, will need to somehow scratch out a few runs off Cueto (or at least get to the Cincinnati bullpen). But they’ll also need a big-time start out of Doug Fister, who was excellent last week in Arizona (one run in seven innings) and tonight makes his Nationals Park debut.
Updates to come, please check back…
CINCINNATI REDS at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, 1500 AM, XM 89, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 74 degrees, Wind 5 mph out to LF
CF Denard Span
3B Anthony Rendon
RF Jayson Werth
SS Ian Desmond
1B Tyler Moore
LF Kevin Frandsen
2B Danny Espinosa
C Jose Lobaton
RHP Doug Fister
CF Billy Hamilton
RF Skip Schumaker
2B Brandon Phillips
1B Todd Frazier
C Brayan Pena
LF Chris Heisey
SS Zack Cozart
3B Ramon Santiago
RHP Johnny Cueto
HP Rob Drake
1B Alan Porter
2B Joe West (cc)
3B Marty Foster
7:05 p.m. — We are underway with a strike from Doug Fister to Billy Hamilton.
7:12 p.m. — Fister’s evening got off to a great start, a 3-pitch strikeout of Hamilton. But that didn’t last long. Skip Schumaker ripped a double to deep left, then scored on Todd Frazier’s 2-out single up the middle. Things could’ve really gotten out of hand after Danny Espinosa made a stunningly awful throw that hit the camera well by the front edge of the dugout. But Fister was able to strike out Chris Heisey on a big curveball to end the inning and keep the deficit at 1-0.
7:22 p.m. — The exact opposite scenario for the Nats in the bottom of the first. Denard Span, not typically the type to go up there and hack at the very first pitch he sees, did just that and lined a base hit to left to get the Nats going. But Anthony Rendon sent a flyball to right, Jayson Werth just got under a pitch and flied out to deep center and Ian Desmond struck out on a 3-2 pitch. So it remains 1-0 after one.
7:34 p.m. — Two scoreless innings in the book and Cueto has thrown only 22 pitches. That’s not exactly what the Nats are looking for against a guy who has already thrown three complete games this season.
7:56 p.m. — They may be unearned runs, but the Nats will happily take a pair of them in the bottom of the third against Cueto, who just gave up as many runs in this inning as he allowed in any of his nine previous starts. We also got a chance to see Fister show off his athletic skills; he scored all the way from first on Span’s bunt single that was followed by a wild throw from third baseman Ramon Santiago. Span (now 2-for-2) wound up on third base and scored on Rendon’s sac fly. So it’s 2-1 Nats after three.
8:01 p.m. — Eight in a row retired by Fister, who since that shaky first inning has looked sharp. We go to the bottom of the fourth.
8:14 p.m. — Make it 11 in a row retired by Fister, who is working fast and getting quick outs. Still 2-1 Nats in the middle of fifth.
8:33 p.m. — Fister got into a jam in the sixth, with two on and one out, but he got Pena to ground out to first. Then Rendon saved the day with another great diving stop, followed by a strong throw to first (with a nice stretch by Moore, as well) to just get Heisey and keep the Reds from scoring. The 2-1 lead remains intact through the top of the sixth.
9:04 p.m. — So, that whole thing about Johnny Cueto being the best pitcher in baseball and being unbeatable? Yeah, not so much tonight. The Nats just blasted him in the bottom of the sixth, scoring seven runs to make it 9-1, becoming the first team to score more than two runs in a game off him this season. They also became the first team to knock him out in fewer than seven innings. Span had two hits in the inning and is now 4-for-4 tonight while picking up four extra bases with his legs. Werth gave himself a birthday present with an RBI single. Moore and Espinosa added RBI singles of their own to finish off the previously unstoppable Cueto. And the hits kept on coming against reliever Sean Marshall, with eight runs (six earned) ultimately charged to Cueto. A standing ovation from the crowd here at the end of the Nationals’ best offensive inning of the season. They lead 9-1 after six.
9:15 p.m. – The Reds get one back in the top of the seventh, thanks in part to a double by old pal Roger Bernadina. But Tyler Moore made another nice play at first base to end the inning and preserve a 9-2 lead for Fister and the Nats at the stretch.
9:35 p.m. — That’ll do it for Fister, who was outstanding again. Over his last two starts, he has thrown 14 innings and allowed only three runs. I think this is what we can expect over the long haul from the big right-hander. Ross Detwiler enters for the eighth, the Nats up 9-2.
9:53 p.m. — Denard Span: 5-for-5. What a night.
10:07 p.m. — Ballgame. Nats win 9-4. An impressive all-around performance.
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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