May 24, 2014, 3:13 PM EDT
PITTSBURGH — There have been 49 Major League Baseball amateur drafts, and of the 49 players selected with the No. 1 overall pick, only 16 have been pitchers. And two of those 16 pitchers (Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole) will be on the mound tonight at PNC Park, squaring off against each other.
It’s only the second head-to-head matchup of No. 1 picks in the last decade — Kris Benson faced Paul Wilson in 2005, David Price faced Luke Hochevar in 2012 — and this one features not only two No. 1 overall draft picks, but two right-handers who grew up in Southern California, have fastballs capable of reaching triple digits and were paid really good money before ever throwing a pitch as a professional ballplayer.
The Nationals, who as you know have been struggling to score runs, will take a crack at Cole tonight with a lineup nearly identical to last night. The only change: Danny Espinosa is back at second base, with Anthony Rendon shifting back to third base and Zach Walters on the bench. Otherwise, this is the group that will have to someone put together enough runs to win a ballgame and avoid falling below the .500 mark.
A heads-up that tonight’s game is on Fox, with F.P. Santangelo joining Justin Kutcher for the call. Most of the East Coast will get this game. Click on the link below to see the coverage map…
WASHINGTON NATIONALS at PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Where: PNC Park
Gametime: 7:15 p.m. EDT
TV: Fox (regional coverage map here), MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, 1500 AM, XM 869, MLB.com
Weather: Clear, 73 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to CF
CF Denard Span
3B Anthony Rendon
RF Jayson Werth
C Wilson Ramos
SS Ian Desmond
1B Greg Dobbs
2B Danny Espinosa
LF Nate McLouth
RHP Stephen Strasburg
RF Josh Harrison
2B Neil Walker
CF Andrew McCutchen
1B Ike Davis
C Russell Martin
3B Pedro Alvarez
LF Starling Marte
SS Clint Barmes
RHP Gerrit Cole
HP Gabe Morales
1B Tim Timmons
2B Tim Welke (cc)
3B Todd Tichenor
7:16 p.m. — And we’re underway on another gorgeous night for baseball. Close to a full house here at PNC Park as Gerrit Cole fires a fastball inside to Denard Span for ball one.
7:21 p.m. — And Cole retires the side on 11 pitches, getting Span to popup, Anthony Rendon to fly out and Jayson Werth to ground out. It’s your turn, Stephen Strasburg.
7:28 p.m. — Strasburg sees Cole’s 11-pitch, 1-2-3 first inning and raises him a 9-pitch, 1-2-3 first inning. He struck out Neil Walker on a 90-mph changeup, got Josh Harrison to pop out and Andrew McCutchen to fly out to center. Good start to this game, this could be a fun one tonight.
7:35 p.m. — A nice, controlled swing from Greg Dobbs, resulting in an opposite-field single for the first hit of the night by either team. Dobbs is now 4-f0r-13 with a sac fly since joining the Nats, and if I had to guess, I’d say he’ll be sticking around awhile longer even after Adam LaRoche comes off the DL tomorrow.
7:41 p.m. — Danny Espinosa and Russell Martin jawed at each other a bit last night after Espinosa was drilled in the knee by a pitch. And Strasburg just hit Martin on the first pitch he saw at the plate tonight. Hmm … But before you get worked up, it was a curveball by Strasburg. No intent there. Meanwhile, Strasburg is through two scoreless innings on a scant 15 pitches. He’s dialed-in so far tonight. Scoreless as we go to the third.
8:01 p.m. — They haven’t scored a run, but the Nats have made Cole throw 51 pitches in three innings. So that’s something, I suppose. They got a great at-bat out of Rendon in the top of the third, an 11-pitch at-bat that ended in a walk. Great battle by the guy who was supposed to be the No. 1 pick in 2011 against the guy who wound up being the No. 1 pick that year. Werth battled, too, but wound up striking out on a slider that appeared to be below the knees. So the Nats are 0-for-1 with RISP so far tonight. Still 0-0 as Strasburg takes the mound for the bottom of the third.
8:09 p.m. — Make it 9 batters faced by Strasburg in three innings on only 32 pitches. The lone Pirate to reach base: Martin on the HBP, but he was immediately erased on a double play. Strasburg has been in complete control so far, getting ahead of hitters and exhibiting perhaps the best fastball command he’s had all season.
8:19 p.m. — You know who is swinging a hot bat? Ian Desmond. He just belted an 0-1 change-up from Cole over the fence in the deepest part of the ballpark, left-center, for his ninth homer of the season. Over his last 12-plus games, Desmond is now hitting .306 with a .358 OBP, .673 slugging percentage and five homers. He looks like the guy we saw the last two seasons. Nats take a 1-0 lead in the fourth.
8:31 p.m. — You know who else is swinging a hot bat? Neil Walker, who blasted his 10th homer of the season just now, sending a Strasburg fastball into the bullpen in left-center. That was the Pirates’ first hit of the night, and it produced their first run, tying this game 1-1 after four.
8:49 p.m. — But the Nats come right back and re-take the lead thanks to a nice, grind-it-out at-bat from Ramos, who wound up poking an RBI single to right. That’s the first run-scoring hit by the Nats with a man in scoring position since the sixth inning on TUESDAY. Remarkable. They had a chance to deliver a knockout punch to Cole in the top of the fifth, but they stranded the bases loaded. Still, they’ve made Cole throw 98 pitches already, so they’re going to get to the Pirates bullpen early. It’s 2-1 Nats heading to the bottom of the fifth.
9:11 p.m. — From the “This Is Not Good Department”: Danny Espinosa just struck out for the third time tonight. He now has struck out 100 times — with only 10 walks — in 329 plate appearances over the last two seasons. That is REALLY not good.
9:25 p.m. — Strasburg is through six innings of 1-run, 3-hit ball, but his pitch count is starting to climb. He’s at 91. Cole, meanwhile, is done after 112 pitches through six innings. The Nats will take their hacks at reliever Jared Hughes now in the seventh, still leading 2-1.
9:31 p.m. — So, kind of an interesting moment just now. Werth had his bat sawed into pieces by Hughes, with the ball ending up in fair territory, going back to the pitcher. He took about five steps out of the box, then gave up on the play as Hughes threw to first for the easy out. I’m not saying Matt Williams should bench him for that, but it would be interesting to hear Williams explain the difference between that and what Bryce Harper did last month.
9:48 p.m. — And just like that, the Nats are trailing this ballgame. Strasburg got into a jam in the seventh, putting runners on second and third with one out. Jose Tabata lined out to center for a sac fly. Then came a curious decision: After falling behind in the count, Strasburg intentionally walked light-hitting pinch-hitter Travis Snider to put runners on second and third with two outs. Josh Harrison then stepped up and smoked a base hit to center. Span threw to third base and got the trailing runner, but not until after the lead runner scored. Three questions for Matt Williams: 1) Why not let Strasburg pitch to Snider? 2) If not, why not bring in a lefty to face Snider? 3) Why not bring in another righty to face Harrison, with Strasburg at 108 pitches and fading? Anyways, it’s 3-2 Pirates now after seven.
10:08 p.m. — Last chance for the Nats. They trail 3-2 in the ninth, and it’ll be McLouth, a pinch-hitter (Kevin Frandsen?) and Span against Mark Melancon.
10:15 p.m. — That’s the ballgame. Nats lose a really tough one, 3-2. They’ve dropped four in a row, and at 24-25 they’re under .500 for the first time since Aug. 22, 2013.
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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