Aug 16, 2014, 3:22 PM EST
In their slow, mostly steady march to the top of the NL East, the Nationals have won five straight games only once this season, from June 28-July 2. Tonight they have a chance to match that streak, if they can take down the Pirates once again.
They’ll need a better performance from Gio Gonzalez than they’ve gotten in the last few weeks. Gonzalez is 0-3 over his last three starts, having given up 11 earned runs while putting 27 men on base in only 14 1/3 innings. Consistency, and a low pitch count early are mandatory for the left-hander.
Jayson Werth once again is out of the lineup — this is the seventh time in eight games he’s been out — but the hope is that his shoulder will be ready to get him back starting tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, Bryce Harper moves to right field tonight, with Kevin Frandsen getting the start in left field against Pirates lefty Jeff Locke.
Updates to come…
PITTSBURGH PIRATES at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, Ch. 9, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, 1500 AM, XM 184, MLB.com
Weather: Clear, 83 degrees, Wind 7 mph out to CF
CF Denard Span
LF Kevin Frandsen
3B Anthony Rendon
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
LF Bryce Harper
C Wilson Ramos
2B Danny Espinosa
LHP Gio Gonzalez
SS Josh Harrison
RF Gregory Polanco
C Russell Martin
CF Starling Marte
1B Gaby Sanchez
3B Pedro Alvarez
2B Jayson Nix
LF Travis Snider
LHP Jeff Locke
HP Mark Wegner (cc)
1B Andy Fletcher
2B Mike Muchlinski
3B Tom Woodring
7:06 p.m. — We are underway on another spectacular night here, with a fastball from Gio Gonzalez to Josh Harrison for strike one.
7:18 p.m. — The good news: Gio threw strikes in the top of the first, a lot of them. Eight of his first nine pitches were for strikes, and 19 of his 27 pitches in the inning were strikes. But 27 pitches to only five batters is a lot. Credit to the Pirates for fouling a bunch off and for producing a pair of 2-out singles by Russell Martin and Starling Marte. Gaby Sanchez nearly sent a double to the gap in right-center to score both, but Bryce Harper hauled it in to ensure a scoreless inning for Gonzalez.
7:30 p.m. — A 1-out single from Kevin Frandsen in the bottom of the first, but that’s it for the Nats. Nobody else hit the ball out of the infield against Jeff Locke.
7:38 p.m. — That’s more like it. Gonzalez struck out the side in the top of the second, needing only 16 pitches to do it. He fired a couple of really nice curveballs in the inning, getting Jayson Nix to whiff on one of them. He also got Travis Snider to strike out on a well-placed changeup to end the inning. To the bottom of the second we go in a 0-0 game.
7:59 p.m. — That was not more like it. Gio looked like he was going to get through the top of the third with no trouble, but then he issued a 2-out walk to Martin and the wheels fell off. Marte sent an RBI double down the third-base line. Sanchez then smoked the next pitch through the hole on the left side of the infield, bringing home two more runs. Just like that, the Pirates are up 3-0, and Gonzalez’s pitch count sits at a whopping 65.
8:05 p.m. — This isn’t for the faint of heart, but here goes: Over his last nine innings of work, Gio Gonzalez has thrown … 204 pitches.
8:16 p.m. — A better fourth inning for Gonzalez, who allowed an infield single to Snider, but that was it. On the flip side, the Nats lineup hasn’t been able to get anything going against Locke. Through three innings, they’ve got Frandsen’s single and Desmond’s walk (which was wiped out when he was caught stealing). Still 3-0 Bucs heading to the bottom of the fourth.
8:35 p.m. — Well, there you have it: Gio has reached triple digits in pitches for the night, with only two outs and two on in the fifth. He struck out Alvarez, so he’s through five on 102 pitches (65 strikes). And the Pirates still have only those three runs. But there has yet to be any movement in the bullpen despite the high pitch count, and likely for this reason: Both Rafael Soriano and Tyler Clippard have pitched three straight days. Which means they’re likely unavailable tonight, which means Matt Williams has a short pen for this one and needs to try to squeeze one more inning out of Gio.
8:46 p.m. — Given their first real opportunity of the night to do something at the plate, the Nats couldn’t even put the ball in play. Singles by Desmond and Ramos in the bottom of the fifth put two on with one out. But Espinosa struck out looking at an inside fastball (Mark Wegner’s strike zone has been quite erratic tonight, on both sides) and pinch-hitter Scott Hairston struck out on three pitches. So it remains 3-0 heading to the sixth, and here’s Craig Stammen to replace Gonzalez.
9:08 p.m. — Another chance for the Nats in the bottom of the sixth, but again they can’t deliver. They had two one with two out and Desmond at the plate when Clint Hurdle strode to the mound and removed Locke in favor of right-hander Jared Hughes. Desmond battled to a 2-2 count and roped a line drive … directly at Josh Harrison at shortstop. Rally killed. It’s still 3-0 heading to the seventh.
9:19 p.m. — This isn’t to suggest the Nats have been robbed or have been unlucky tonight, but the Pirates have flashed some serious leather in this game. Snider, Marte and Harrison all have made stellar plays in the field to take potential hits away. It remains 3-0 after seven.
9:26 p.m. — Three scoreless innings of relief from Stammen, who has faced the minimum thanks to a pair of double plays induced. He has does everything he can to give his teammates a chance to rally late. Now it’s up to them. They still trail 3-0 heading to the bottom of the eighth.
9:42 p.m. — We’ve got a whole new ballgame, folks. The Nats just stormed back to score three runs in the eighth off All-Star Tony Watson. The key hits: Frandsen’s RBI single to right (his third hit of the game) and LaRoche’s line shot over the right-field fence on a 1-0 pitch. That’s the first homer Watson has surrendered to a lefty this season, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Nats, who have tied this game 3-3 heading to the ninth.
9:57 p.m. — Nats win! Nats win! Harper drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth, then took second on a wild pitch, then scored on Ramos’ ground-rule double to deep right. That’s a 4-3 victory, their fifth straight.
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)...
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