May 25, 2014, 10:28 AM EST
PITTSBURGH — You may want to avert your eyes for a moment, but I feel compelled to share this fact: If the Nationals lose today, they would suffer their first four-game sweep since July 2009 against the Cubs, their first four-game road sweep since August 2008 in Milwaukee. Yikes.
But enough with the negative news. Let’s focus on several positive reasons why the Nats have reason to believe they won’t be heading out of Pittsburgh winless: 1) Adam LaRoche is officially back from the DL, hitting cleanup for the first time in 15 days, 2) Doug Fister is on the mound, and at this point, there may be no other pitcher the Nats would rather have out there in a must-win situation, 3) The Nats have been way more successful against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching this season, even with all the injuries, and today it’s lefty Francisco Liriano on the mound for the Pirates.
So, there you have it. Some reason for optimism. Updates to come, so please check back…
WASHINGTON NATIONALS at PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Where: PNC Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, Ch. 9, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, 1500 AM, XM 869, MLB.com
Weather: Sunny, 78 degrees, Wind 4 mph out to CF
CF Denard Span
3B Anthony Rendon
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
LF Tyler Moore
2B Kevin Frandsen
C Jose Lobaton
RHP Doug Fister
RF Josh Harrison
2B Neil Walker
CF Andrew McCutchen
1B Ike Davis
LF Starling Marte
3B Pedro Alvarez
SS Jordy Mercer
C Chris Stewart
LHP Francisco Liriano
HP Tim Timmons
1B Tim Welke (cc)
2B Todd Tichenor
3B Gabe Morales
1:35 p.m. — And we’re underway on one last beautiful day here at PNC Park. Denard Span takes a strike from Francisco Liriano to get this one started.
1:49 p.m. — That’s exactly the kind of start the Nationals needed to this game. They scored two runs in the top of the first thanks to hits from Span, Ian Desmond and Tyler Moore, a walk by Anthony Rendon and some aggressiveness from Span, who scored on a wild pitch that only bounced 20 feet away from the plate. The Nats entered today hitting .284 against lefties, and that number only went up after a 3-for-6 top of the first that also included a scorched lineout by Kevin Frandsen that happened to be right at Pedro Alvarez. 2-0 Nats as Doug Fister takes the mound.
1:55 p.m. — And Fister opens his afternoon with a 9-pitch bottom of the first that included a 3-pitch strikeout of Andrew McCutchen. Since his dominant game Thursday night, the reigning MVP and Nat-killer has been held in check. He’s now 1 for his last 9.
2:07 p.m. — Make it 6 up, 6 down for Fister on 22 pitches. He had a really nice strikeout of Starling Marte on a 3-2 curveball. That’s showing some confidence right there. Still 2-0 Nats after two.
2:17 p.m. — Here’s a weird one for you: Rendon got caught trying to steal second too soon and got in a rundown. But Ike Davis dropped the ball, then spiked Rendon, who tripped and fell. So Davis was called for obstruction and Rendon was awarded second base. Meanwhile, Adam LaRoche is 0-for-2 with a groundout and a strikeout in his first game off the DL. LaRoche gets booed unmercifully here. I guess the fans still hold some slow starts over multiple seasons against him. But this has got to be the only place in America where LaRoche gets booed. (Actually, I need to amend that. It probably happens at various deer farms in Kansas.)
2:33 p.m. — Things have settled down here, with Liriano finding his groove and keeping the Nats from scoring over the last three innings. Fister did finally put his first man of the game on base via a Chris Stewart single in the third, but that’s it so far allowed by the big right-hander. It remains 2-0 Nats heading to the bottom of the fourth.
3:04 p.m. — The magic number for the Nationals this season has been 4. When they score four or more runs, they’re 20-1. Well, they’ve got their four runs, thanks to Span’s second hit of a day (at the end of a fantastic, 11-pitch at-bat), a stolen base, a Rendon triple off the wall in right-center and Liriano’s second wild pitch of the afternoon. Speaking that stolen base, it hasn’t gotten a lot of attention but the Nats are now 23-for-27 on attempts this season. They rank 13th in the NL in number of steals, but their 85 percent success rate is best in the NL. 4-0 now heading to the bottom of the fifth.
3:19 p.m. — Fister appeared to get a 6-4-3 double play to end the fifth inning, only to watch as Desmond ole’d it for his 13th error of the season. So how did he respond: By inducing another 6-4-3 double play, this one successfully turned. That’s a pretty good idea of Doug Fister right there. Guy doesn’t let anything bother him on the mound. Still 4-0 Nats heading to the sixth.
3:36 p.m. — Wow, things sure fell apart quickly for Fister in the sixth. Josh Harrison — who has turned into Andrew McCutchen this weekend — led off with a homer. Then after two singles, Matt Williams came out to get the ball from Fister, who had thrown only 83 pitches. Certainly didn’t get the same ace treatment afforded to Stephen Strasburg last night. Then again, this move worked like a charm because Craig Stammen entered and on one pitch recorded two outs, getting Starling Marte on a 5-4-3. So it’s a 4-1 lead for the Nats after six.
3:57 p.m. — More insurance for the Nats in the seventh. They get a run on three singles, including an RBI hit by Desmond that was originally ruled a diving catch by Harrison in right field but was overturned on Matt Williams’ challenge. So it’s now 5-1 Nats at the stretch.
4:10 p.m. — Is there a more underrated reliever in baseball than Craig Stammen. He’s already tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings in a big spot, and now he gets to hit for himself in the top of the eighth. His value to this team can’t be overstated.
4:28 p.m. — Don’t get too comfortable quite yet, folks. Ike Davis’ RBI single off Aaron Barrett in the eighth cut the lead to 5-2. Barrett did strike out both McCutchen and Marte to avoid any more damage, but it’s now a 5-2 game and thus a save situation is looming for Rafael Soriano in the ninth.
4:36 p.m. — OK, here we go. It’s Soriano vs. Alvarez, Mercer and Stewart in the bottom of the ninth, the Nats still leading by three runs.
4:44 p.m. — That’ll do it. The Nats earn a much-needed, 5-2 win to avoid a four-game sweep and get back to the .500 mark heading back to D.C. for a 9-game homestand.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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