The Washington Nationals entered play today with an NL-worst .198 AVG against left-handed pitchers after 31 games and 274 plate appearances this season. The Nats' .277 OBP vs lefties was 13th of 15 amongst National League teams and their .317 SLG was 15th overall, again, dead last. Just to make things a little more difficult? The Nationals had to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates without the help of right-handed hitting outfielder Jayson Werth, who sat for the third straight game with hamstring issues, and after the top of the first, without Bryce Harper, who got ejected by third base ump John Hirschbeck. Harper ignored a warning from Hirschbeck and spent a little too long staring disapprovingly at the veteran ump after he'd punched the Nats' 20-year-old slugger out on a check-swing strike three in Harper's first inning AB. Not good. Have a look... think it's a helmet toss that eventually gets him ejected though it's only alluded to in the audio and not shown...
• Bryce Harper Gets Ejected:
So... no Harper. And... the Nationals would have to overcome an early Pirates' lead too. Pittsburgh left fielder Starling Marte ambushed Nats' lefty Gio Gonzalez on the first pitch of the game and jacked it to left... into the second deck and GONE! for Marte's 5th blast of the year and a 1-0 Pittsburgh lead. Two pitches later, Jordy Mercer doubled to right-center off Gonzalez. A throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman on a Andrew McCutchen grounder and a walk to Gaby Sanchez loaded the bases with no outs. Gonzalez got out no.1 with 2-2 change, knee-high outside that got Russell Martin swinging. Backup backstop Michael McKenry K'd looking at a 94 mph 2-2 fastball inside for out no.2. The Nats' lefty got up 0-2 on Brandon Inge, went to a full count and got a grounder to short to end the first. Grounder. Desmond. Out. 1-0 Pirates after one in PNC. 27 pitches in the first for Gonzalez.
Ryan Zimmerman walked to start the second and took third on an Adam LaRoche double to right-center. Tyler Moore stepped in against Wandy Rodriguez with no one out and two on and took an 0-2 curve for a called strike three, but Danny Espinosa came through with a sac fly to center in the next AB that scored the leadoff walk and tied it up at 1-1. Wandy Rodriguez got Wilson Ramos looking with a fastball for out no.3 on his 37th pitch of the game. Gio Gonzalez threw a 1-2 fastball by Pirates' shortstop John McDonald for out no.1 of the bottom of the inning, but went to a full count with the opposing pitcher before surrendering a line drive single to right. Starling Marte grounded into a force at second for out no.2 and a groundout to short ended the second. Grounder. Desmond. Out. 43 total after 2.0 IP in PNC.
Denard Span reached on a one-out infield single in the top of the third, just "beating" a throw to first by Pirates' SS John McDonald, who bounced the throw to Gaby Sanchez. Span stole second with Ian Desmond at the plate and took third when Desmond flew out to center, but he was stranded there when Roger Bernadina K'd swinging to end the Nats' third. Gio Gonzalez got a fly to center on the first pitch of the Pirates' third and got Gaby Sanchez looking with a 94 mph full-count fastball for two quick outs. After a walk to Russell Martin, Gonzalez struck Michael McKenry out to end an 18-pitch frame at 61 overall. 1-1 in Pittsburgh after three.
After battling for nine pitches, Ryan Zimmerman hit a line drive single to right to start the Nats' fourth, then scored one out later when "Right Side" Danny Espinosa jacked a full-count curve from Wandy Rodriguez for a two-run home run to left that gave the Nationals a 3-1 lead. Espinosa's 3rd. Rodriguez gave up a two-out double by Wilson Ramos in the next at bat, but got a groundout from Gio Gonzalez to end a 26-pitch frame at 87 pitches total. Flies to center from Brandon Inge and John McDonald got Gonzalez two quick outs in the bottom of the inning fourth inning, and a weak grounder to third ended a 16-pitch frame. 77 total for the Nats' lefty. 12 of 14 set down after Gonzalez loaded the bases in the first.
Ian Desmond was 1 for 3 today after singling to left with one down in the fifth. Roger Bernadina lined to left for out no.2 of the Nats' half of the inning. Desmond stole second with Ryan Zimmerman up, but a sharp lineout to third ended the Nationals' fifth. Still 3-1 D.C. Starting Marte was the 13th of 15 Pirates' batters set down by Gonzalez when he tried to get a bunt down that Wilson Ramos was all over. Jordy Mercer flew to left on a 2-1 change and Andrew McCutchen popped to first to end a 10-pitch inning after which Gio Gonzalez was at 87 overall having set 15 of 17 batters down since stopping the Pirates' rally in the first.
Wandy Rodriguez retired the Nats in order in the sixth. The 16-pitch inning left him at 117 overall. Gaby Sanchez singled off Gio Gonzalez for a leadoff hit in the Pirates' sixth, then scored from first on a Russell Martin double to left-center field. Martin crushed an 0-1 fastball for his seventh two-base hit of 2013 and cut the Nats' lead in half with one one out in the home-half of the sixth. Gonzalez popped Michael McKenry up for the first out of the inning. A Brandon Inge groundout moved the tying run to third, but a John McDonald grounder to the mound ended the sixth with the Nats still up by one, 3-2. The 15-pitch inning had the Nats' lefty at 102 overall after six.
Wilson Ramos singled to center to start the seventh against Pirates' right-hander Jose Contrera, but a popped bunt and two Ks kept Pittsburgh within one after six and a half in PNC Park. Drew Storen needed 14 pitches to retire the Pirates in order in the bottom of the seventh, after which the Nats' 3-2 lead remained in tact.
Pirates' right-hander Bryan Morris gave up a bunt single by Roger Bernadina in the top of the eighth. Morris walked Adam LaRoche to get to Tyler Moore with one down after a Ryan Zimmerman groundout and Moore battled for six pitches after starting down 0-2 and homered to left on a 2-2 slider to make it a 6-2 game. 3-run blast. Moore's first. One-out later, Wilson Ramos (3 for 4) doubled with two down, but was stranded at second at the end of the Nats' eighth. Tyler Clippard took over the Nationals in the Pirates' eighth and got three quick outs in a nine-pitch, 1-2-3 frame that ended with a diving catch in left by Roger Bernadina. [CHOMP!]. 6-2 Nats after eight.
Vin Mazzaro took over for the Pirates in the top of the ninth and gave up a two-out single by Roger Bernadina (2 for 4) before getting an inning-ending groundout from Ryan Zimmerman. Rafael Soriano came out for the ninth in a non-save situation. Michael McKenry battled for nine pitches and popped out to second. ONE!! Brandon Inge doubled by a diving Ryan Zimmerman at third for a one-out double. Pinch hitter Garrett Jones popped to Zimmerman in foul territory off third. TWO!! Travis Snyder grounded to short. Grounder. Desmond. Out. Ballgame. Nats win, 6-2 final.
Nationals win, 6-2 final.
Nationals now 17-15