5. Ross Again: Joe Ross went eight strong innings for the first time in the minors or majors this season last time out, giving up just two runs and seven hits in a 7-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in Miller Park in which the Nationals' rookie right-hander threw a total of 108 pitches, also a season-high.
Through two starts since his somewhat surprising call to the majors, Washington's 22-year-old starter has allowed 13 hits, a walk, and five runs, while striking out 12 in 13 IP.
Nationals' manager Matt Williams admitted earlier this week that at the start of the season,"... never in our wildest imagination we thought Joe Ross would be here."
General Manager Mike Rizzo, before Ross debuted, told reporters that though they thought Ross, "... would be quick through the minor leagues for us... this has accelerated his development even a little faster than I thought he would."
But here he was, making his third start in the majors, and trying to stop a two-game slide that left the Nationals just a game over .500 after 67 games. Williams praised Ross after the start against the Brewers, which kept the Nats from dropping a third straight.
"Throwing the ball over the plate," he said. "Aggressive in the strike zone, getting ahead of guys and using the slider too, so, pitched really well. We needed that one."
The Nationals needed Ross to come through again tonight in Nationals Park, but he had to face a Pittsburgh Pirates team that came to the nation's capital on an eight-game win streak.
Ross retired the Pirates in order in a quick, 11-pitch, 1-2-3 first, striking Andrew McCutchen out with an 0-2 slider to end the frame.
Jung Ho Kang took a full-count sinker back up the middle for a leadoff single in the top of the second, but a 3-2 slider got Pedro Alvarez swinging for out no.1. Bucs' catcher Francisco Cervelli hit a grounder through the right side on a 1-2 sinker, sending Kang around to third and Gregory Polanco singled to right to bring him in and cut the Nats' lead in half, 2-1, but two outs later he escaped further damage, stranding two at the end of a 28-pitch second that left him at 39 total.
Josh Harrison singled to center off Ross to start the third, but was doubled up at first on a liner back to the mound off Starling Marte's bat in the next AB, 1-3 DP. Nice reflexes, Joe. Or preservation instinct. Another 2-2 slider got Andrew McCutchen swinging for out no.3 of an 11-pitch 3rd. 50 total after three.
Ross struck out the side, all on sliders, in a 14-pitch fourth,. 64 total, 7 Ks after four innings.
Gregory Polanco "doubled" to start the Pirates' fifth on a pop to center Denard Span couldn't find. An 0-2 slider in the dirt got Jordy Mercer swinging for K no.8 by Ross. A.J. Burnett squared to bunt on an 0-2 pitch, then pulled back and K'd swinging at a slider. 9 Ks. Josh Harrison sent a 1-2 slider to deep left, but Michael Taylor made a leaping catch at the wall for out no.3 of a 13-pitch fifth by Ross, who was up to 77 total.
Andrew McCutchen was 0 for 3 vs Ross after he hit a towering fly to left for out no.2 of the top of the sixth, and Jung Ho Kang K'd looking at an 0-2 sinker to end a seven-pitch sixth that left Ross at 10 Ks and 84 pitches.
Pedro Alvarez took the second walk Ross has issued in the majors in the first at bat of the seventh. A 1-2 slider got Francisco Cervelli swinging for K no.11 on the night and Gregory Polanco sent a grounder up the middle to start a 6-3 DP. 12-pitch frame, 96 total.
Ross came back out for the eighth with a 4-1 lead. Jose Tabata reached safely on a one-out grounder up the middle that Anthony Rendon reached but pocketed. That was it for Ross...
• Joe Ross' Line: 7.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER 1 BB, 11 Ks, 102 P, 73 S, 3/2 GO/FO.
4. Burnett Again: "Good curveball," Nationals' manager Matt Williams said after veteran right-hander A.J. Burnett beat Washington for the third time in five starts last season. He'd end up winning four of six outings for the Phillies against their NL East rivals.
"Curveball for strikes tonight," Williams continued.
"We want to be patient, but he didn't allow us to. He threw the fastball in the zone and threw his curveball for strikes too. So, he can be really good if he does that, so he was good tonight."
After going (4-2) vs Washington last season, the 38-year-old, 17-year veteran improved to (12-5) vs the franchise in his career with a 3.19 ERA, 46 walks (2.77 BB/9) and 143 Ks (8.62 K/9) in 23 games, 22 starts and 149 ⅓ IP, over which he's held Expos/Nats hitters to a combined .238/.303/.354 line.
Burnett took the mound in the series opener in Nationals Park (6-2) through 13 starts for the Pirates this season with a 1.89 ERA, 2.74 FIP, 24 walks (2.52 BB/9) and 74 Ks (7.77 K/9) in 85 ⅔ IP, over which he's held opposing hitters to a .233/.292/.300 line.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams talked before tonight's game about what the Nationals were looking for from the Pirates' starter.
"The reports that we have on him [are] that he's throwing more fastballs this year," Williams said.
"Less curveballs, more fastballs. He's having a great year. We know that he's certainly comfortable in Pittsburgh.
"All of the offseason stuff is well-documented, but he's performing for them very, very well. For us, it's getting good ones to hit. Ball sinks a lot, he throws the ball to both corners and he knows how to pitch."
Burnett's fourteenth start of the year began with back-to-back singles by Denard Span and Anthony Rendon that put runners on first and third with no one out. Yunel Escobar's groundout to short in the next at bat brought Span in and it was 1-0 Nats early in the nation's capital. One out later, Rendon scored on an RBI double to right-center by Wilson Ramos that made it 2-0 Nationals. 25-pitch first for Burnett.
Tyler Moore and Michael Taylor hit back-to-back singles to start the second, but Nats' starter Joe Ross K'd trying to bunt the runners over for out no.1. Denard Span was 2 for 2 after his line drive to left loaded the bases, but Anthony Rendon grounded out to short to start an inning-ending 6-4-3. 10-pitch frame, 35 total after two.
Yunel Escobar reached on an error, took second on the errant throw, third on a lineout to center by Clint Robinson and scored on an RBI single to right by Wilson Ramos. 3-1 Nationals. 10-pitch frame by Burnett, 45 total after three.
Tyler Moore doubled to left to start the Nationals' fourth and took third on a groundout by Michael Taylor. Joe Ross collected his first MLB hit on a chopper toward the mound when the Pirates' pitcher, first and second baseman all went for the ball and no one covered first. Ross took second on a fly to left by Denard Span that was too shallow to score Moore. Anthony Rendon walked to load'em up again, but Yunel Escobar grounded out to third to end a 14-pitch fourth that left Burnett at 59P.
Danny Espinosa singled to left with two out in the fifth, and stole second base with Tyler Moore at the plate, but Moore K'd looking to end an 12-pitch frame by Burnett, who was up to 71 pitches after five.
Michael Taylor lined a single to right to start the Nationals' half of the sixth, but Joe Ross K'd trying to bunt with two strikes, so Taylor stole second to advance himself. SB no.7. A groundout by Denard Span moved Taylor to third, but Anthony Rendon K'd swinging to end the sixth. 15-pitch frame for Burnett, 86 total after six.
Clint Robinson singled with one out in the Nats' half of the seventh and scored one out later on a two-out RBI triple to right field by Danny Espinosa. Gregory Polanco made a nice attempt, but failed to come up with the ball, crashing hard into the out-of-town scoreboard. 4-1 Nationals.
• A.J. Burnett's Line: 6.2 IP, 14 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 Ks, 98 P, 66 S, 7/2 GO/FO.
3. Random Game Notes: The Pirates entered this weekend's three-game set the winners of eight straight, 13 of 16 in June and 21 of the last 26 overall with the best in the majors since May 9th (26-11).
• Over the course of their eight-game win streak, Pittsburgh's starters have put up a combined 0.69 ERA (6 ER in 78 IP). The Pirates, as a team, have allowed just seven runs during the streak, and according to Elias Sports Bureau, only two other teams have allowed seven or fewer runs over an eight-game span in the last twenty years, the 1998 Atlanta Braves and the 2009 St. Louis Cardinals.
• Andrew McCutchen, who's battling the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton for domination in the nation's capital, started the series (18 for 45, .400 AVG) with four doubles, two triples and five home runs in his last 11 games in Nats Park.
• Overall in his career, McCutchen had a .345/.393/.764 in the Nationals' home and a .367/.435/.750 line six doubles and 13 home runs against Washington.
• Denard Span's leadoff single in the bottom of the first, left him 13 for 43 as a true leadoff man in his first at bats of the 46 games he's played this season.
• Joe Ross struck McCutchen out in the first at bats of the game between the veteran slugger and rookie pitcher, for just the 19th and 20th Ks in 149 PAs against the Nationals.
2. Turning Point(s): The Nationals struck early with back-to-back singles by Denard Span and Anthony Rendon and both of them came around to score, Span on an RBI groundout by Yunel Escobar and Rendon on a two-out double to right-center by Wilson Ramos. 2-0 Nats early in the nation's capital. But the Pirates came right back in the top of the second with third baseman Jung Ho Kang singling and scoring from third one out later on a RBI line drive by Gregory Polanco, 2-1 after one and a half.
• The Nationals got back-to-back singles in each of the first two innings, but after both runners scored in the first, Joe Ross failed to get down a bunt with two on and no one out in the second and with the bases loaded, Anthony Rendon grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3.
• A throwing error on a nice play by Pirates' third baseman Jung Ho Kang put Yunel Escobar on second in the Nats' half of the third, and after he took third base on a lineout by Clint Robinson, Escobar scored on an RBI single by Wilson Ramos, 2 for 2, 2 RBIs. 3-1.
• Pirates' outfielder Gregory Polanco "doubled" to start the fifth, and two outs later looked like he would score when Josh Harrison lined a 1-2 slider from Joe Ross to left, but Michael Taylor tracked it perfectly and leapt at the wall to make the catch and keep the Nationals' two-run lead in tact. M!A!T!
• The Nationals added a run in the bottom of the seventh when Clint Robinson singled with one down and scored one out later on an RBI triple to right by Danny Espinosa, 4-1.
1. The Wrap-Up: Right-hander Travis Hughes took over on the mound for Burnett with Danny Espinosa on third and two out in the seventh and got out no.3 with one pitch to Tyler Moore. 4-1 after seven.
David Carpenter came on for Joe Ross in the eighth, with a runner on first and one out and stranded the runner to keep it 4-1 Nationals.
Drew Storen came on for the save opportunity in the top of the ninth and earned save no.20. Ballgame.
4-1 Nationals final.
Nationals now 35-33