Sweep Avoidance Top 5:
5. Quick Recap: Denard Span sent a hard-hit grounder by first base and hustled around to second for a double off Pittsburgh Pirates' starter Francisco Liriano in the first at bat of this afternoon's series finale in PNC Park. Anthony Rendon walked in the second AB of the game, putting two on for Jayson Werth, who K'd chasing a 1-2 change out of the zone low. In his first at bat off the DL, Adam LaRoche grounded weakly to second for out no.2, but advanced both runners into scoring position so a wild pitch by Liriano and RBI single by Ian Desmond could bring both Span and Rendon in for a 2-0 Washington Nationals' lead early.
Denard Span battled Liriano for 11 pitches before singling to right to start the fifth and then stole his seventh base of the year with Anthony Rendon up before scoring when Rendon tripled to right, just out of Pirates' outfielder Josh Harrison's reach. 3-0 Nationals on Rendon's team-leading fourth triple of 2014. A wild pitch to Adam LaRoche allowed Rendon to cruise in from third and make it a 4-0 lead.
Josh Harrison ambushed Doug Fister and took a first-pitch fastball to the left of center field for a solo home run that made it a 4-1 game after six innings in the series finale.
Ian Desmond hit a long fly to the right field corner with runners on first and third in the top of the seventh and Josh Harrison appeared to make another amazing catch, but upon review, he didn't get it. Jayson Werth scored on the play, which was ruled an RBI single. 5-1 Nationals after six and a half.
Ike Davis hit an RBI single to right off Nats' right-hander Aaron Barrett to get the Pirates within three at 5-2 in the eighth.
That's how it ended after Rafael Soriano earned his 11th save of the season in the ninth.
4. Fister = Stopper: Nationals' right-hander Doug Fister didn't look sharp in his 2014 debut in Oakland, in his first start of the season after dealing with a right lat strain which landed him on the DL at the end of Spring Training.
Last time out, however, in his D.C. debut as a member of the Nats' staff, the 30-year-old starter looked more like the Tigers' pitcher who was worth +4.6 fWAR in his (14-9) final season in Detroit before the trade that brought him to the nation's capital this past winter.
"He works fast," Matt Williams said after Fister's seven-inning, 12 ground ball out outing against the Cincinnati Reds in Nationals Park. "He changes speeds. He's aggressive within the strike zone, lets his pitches work for him. He's got great angle. We talked all spring and the beginning of the season about his angle and he's so tall and the ball kind of just fades out of the strike zone sometimes. But he's aggressive, he's not afraid to throw it in there, which is great."
"He's pitched like Doug Fister," Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said in an MLB Network Radio interview this week. "He's a guy that our guys identified in scouting throughout the last couple years. We had our eye on him for a long time and I just like the way that he goes about his business. Even in Oakland, in his first time out of the season, he was working fast, he had a demeanor about him and really attacked hitters. Didn't have his good location or his good stuff, coming out, it was his first game out of Spring Training, really, but has really shown what type of repertoire he has and what type of demeanor he has on the mound. He's very poised and confident, goes after and attacks hitters and can really do a lot of things on the baseball field. He's a surprisingly good hitter for a guy that hasn't hit much in his career. He can really handle the bat, control the running game and he pounds the strike zone, keeps the defense on their toes and has shown the last two starts that he's a guy we can count on throughout this year and down the road."
Through three starts, Fister was (1-1) with a 3.93 ERA, a 4.80 FIP, one walk (0.49 BB/9) and 13 Ks (6.38 K/9) in 18 1/3 IP before taking the mound in PNC Park as the Nationals tried to avoid being swept by the Pirates.
In two starts against Pittsburgh before today, Fister was (0-1) with a 1.38 ERA, two walks (1.38 BB/9) and 19 Ks (13.15 K/9) in 13 IP over which he held opposing hitters to a combined .250/.294/.271 line.
The series finale with the Pirates started with the Nationals scoring two runs in the top of the first, so Fister took the mound with a 2-0 lead...
1st: Josh Harrison popped to short center for out no.1 of Fister's fourth start. Kevin Frandsen fielded a one-hop liner off Neil Walker's bat. Andrew McCutchen K'd looking at an 0-2 fastball. Nine-pitch inning.
2nd: Ike Davis grounded weakly to second on a 2-2 curve. Starling Marte gave up on a full-count curve long before it broke in for a called strike three and out no.2. Pedro Alvarez flew to right on a 2-0 change to end a 14-pitch frame that left Fister at 23 total after two.
3rd: Jordy Mercer fell behind 0-2 and popped out to short center for Doug Fister's seventh straight out to start the game. Chris Stewart too was behind 0-2 after two pitches, but he singled to right for the Pirates' first hit. Francisco Liriano K'd trying to bunt with two strikes for out no.2. Josh Harrison's groundout to short ended a 15-pitch third for Fister, who was up to 38 overall after three.
4th: Fister got up 0-2 on Neil Walker, but gave up a leadoff single to left on a 1-2 curve, though Tyler Moore played it well to hold Walker at first. Andrew McCutchen popped out to second on an 87 mph 1-2 fastball. Ike Davis K'd swinging on a 1-2 fastball high out of the zone and away. Starling Marte sent a broken-bat grounder to short for out no.3 to end a 15-pitch frame that left Fister at 53 overall after four.
5th: Tyler Moore got to an opposite field liner to left off Pedro Alvarez's bat quickly and held him to a single with a strong throw in. Jordy Mercer popped up to the mound for the first out of the frame. Chris Stewart sent a grounder to short that should have been a double play, but Ian Desmond missed it. E:6. Error no.13 on the year for the Nats' 28-year-old shortstop. Pinch hitter Jose Tabata stepped in with two on and gave Desmond a shot at redemption with a grounder to short that started an inning-ending 6-4-3. 19-pitch frame, 72 overall after five.
6th: Josh Harrison got the Pirates on the scoreboard with a home run to left-center on the first pitch from Doug Fister in the sixth. Neil Walker took a high 0-2 fastball through the right side for a single in front of Andrew McCutchen, grounded into a force at second for out no.1. Ike Davis went the other way with a single to left that ended Fister's day after 83 pitches. Craig Stammen took over on the mound and got a grounder to third from Starling Marte to start an inning-ending 5-3 DP. One pitch, two outs.
• Doug Fister's Line: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 Ks, 83 P, 57 S, 7/2 GO/FO.
3. vs LHP vs Liriano: After dropping three straight games to the Pirates in PNC Park and four straight overall to fall a game below .500, the Nationals faced 30-year-old, nine-year veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano this afternoon in the finale of the four-game set. Going in, the Nationals had a .284/.341/.427 line against left-handers on the year, good for 3rd in AVG, fourth in OBP and fourth in SLG in the National League.
Liriano faced the Nationals just once in his career before this afternoon's outing, throwing 7 2/3 scoreless against the Nats in a 4-2 Pirates' win last July.
Liriano took the mound this afternoon looking for his first win of the season, after going (0-4) with a 4.86 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 24 walks (4.02 BB/9) and 53 Ks (8.89 K/9) in 10 starts and 53 2/3 IP.
His 11th outing of the 2014 campaign began with the Nationals scoring two runs on a wild pitch with a runner on third and a two-out RBI single that put the Pirates in a 2-0 hole after a 1/2 inning.
Liriano set the Nationals down in order in a quick, 10-pitch, 1-2-3 second and pitched around a leadoff walk to Anthony Rendon in the third to finish three innings on 48 pitches.
Kevin Frandsen singled with one down in the fourth, but Liriano completed another scoreless frame to keep it close at 2-0 Nats. The 11-pitch inning left Liriano at 59 overall.
Denard Span battled Liriano for 11 pitches before singling to right to start the fifth and stole second with Anthony Rendon at the plate before scoring when Rendon tripled to right field, just out of Josh Harrison's reach. 3-0 Nats.
Liriano's second wild pitch of the game allowed Rendon to score from third and make it 4-0.
• Francisco Liriano's line: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 5 Ks, 2 WP, 98 P, 56 S, 8/0 GO/FO...
2. LaReturn: The Nationals were 5-8 without Adam LaRoche in the middle of the order and at first base.
The 34-year-old Nats' infielder dealt with the right quad strain which eventually landed him on the DL for as long as he could, but eventually decided to sit.
In 32 games and 133 plate appearances before he went on the 15-Day DL, LaRoche put up a .319/.421/.504 line with six doubles and five home runs.
He returned to the lineup this afternoon, as soon as his stint on the Disabled List ended in time to face Francisco Liriano, against whom he was 1 for 6 in their respective careers.
After struggling against lefties last season, LaRoche started strong against left-handed pitching this season with a .296/.406/.370 line through 15 games and 32 plate appearances this season after posting a .198/.254/.313 line vs LHPs last season.
In his first at bat of the game, LaRoche hit a first-pitch fastball out to second that moved two runners into scoring position so Denard Span could score on a wild pitch from Francisco Liriano and Anthony Rendon could come in on an RBI single by Ian Desmond.
LaRoche stepped in for the second time in the top of the third with Anthony Rendon on first and one down. Rendon was picked off by Liriano but interfered with in the rundown, so he was awarded second base, but LaRoche K'd swinging, leaving him 0 for 2 after two at bats.
LaRoche walked in his third plate appearance of the game in the fifth and then singled in the top of the seventh, sending Jayson Werth around to third with a grounder up the middle of the infield after Werth's one-out single to second. 1 for 3, walk, K.
1. The Wrap-Up: Pirates' right-hander Vin Mazzaro retired the Nationals in order in a quick, 12-pitch sixth after Liriano was lifted.
Doug Fister was lifted 11 pitches into the sixth, having surrendered a solo home run and two singles, but Craig Stammen took over and got a double play grounder to third with the first pitch he threw. 5-3 DP.
4-1 Nats after six in the series finale.
5-1 Nationals after Ian Desmond singled on a fly ball to right that Josh Harrison almost robbed with a diving catch. Would have bee a sac fly if Harrison got it, but upon review it was ruled he missed the grab.
Craig Stammen retired the Pirates in order in a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh.
Josh Harrison and Neil Walker hit back-to-back one-out singles off Craig Stammen on the eighth. Aaron Barrett took over on the mound against Andrew McCutchen and got up 0-2 quickly and struck the Pirates' outfielder out with an 0-2 slider out of the zone away. Ike Davis singled to center to bring Harrison home, 5-2. Barrett struck Starling Marte out to end the eighth.
Bryan Morris pitched around a leadoff walk in the top of the ninth...
Pitch it, Soriano! Pitch it, Soriano! Strike'em out, Soriano! Strike'em out, Soriano!! Nats' closer Rafael Soriano came on looking for save no.11 of 2014. Pedro Alvarez flew out to center. ONE! Jordy Mercer popped up to Jose Lobaton. Chris Stewart flew to left where Nate McLouth's catch ended the game.
Nationals now 25-25