5. Fister in PNC: In five starts since returning from over a month on the DL (May 14-June 18), Washington Nationals' starter Doug Fister was (1-3) with a 4.30 ERA and a .314/.354/.432 line against in 29 ⅓ innings pitched before taking the mound tonight in the series opener in Pittsburgh's PNC Park. His last turn in the rotation came this past Saturday night in a five-inning start against the Los Angeles Dodgers in which he allowed nine hits, two walks and four earned runs over five innings of work in what ended up a 4-2 loss in the nation's capital.
The twelve-day layoff between starts, a result of the All-Star Break and a reshuffling of the rotation, didn't necessarily help the right-hander find the consistency he's been searching for this season.
"It doesn't help by any means," Fister said of the layoff.
"But I can't use that as an excuse at all. I stayed sharp throwing bullpens and playing catch, but it is what it is."
The 31-year-old right-hander told reporters that he's still struggling to get in a groove where he feels comfortable on the mound.
"I think it's a matter of finding it first," he said of the search for consistency, "and really kind of getting that groove. I've been fighting myself since coming back, but I think getting back out there in five days will make a big difference."
"I think today his velocity was better, much better," Matt Williams said. "87-88 mph, but wasn't really finding arm slot as much as he wanted to, couple of ground balls got through..."
"I'm trying to induce ground balls," Fister said. "Unfortunately, I was inducing too many hard-hit ground balls, so I've just got to work on that."
He was facing the Pirates tonight for the first time this season after missing Andrew McCutchen and co. when they visited Nationals Park in late June.
Andrew McCutchen improved to 49 for 138 (.355) career vs the Nationals with a two-out single to center field off of Fister in the first, and he scored on a triple to left-center by Starling Marte to make it 1-0 Pirates early. 24-pitch first.
Fister left a 1-1 fastball up, outside for Pirates' first baseman Pedro Alvarez, who sent it out to left field, over the low wall for an opposite field blast that made it 2-0 Pittsburgh. Francisco Cervelli and Brent Morel connected for back-to-back singles for the fourth and fifth hits off the Nats' starter, but they were both stranded three outs later and Fister was to 47 pitches after a 23-pitch second.
Jung Ho Kang doubled to center with two down in the Pirates' half of the third, taking an 0-1 cutter for a ride, and a wild pitch let him take third. Pedro Alvarez walked to put two on before Fister caught Francisco Cervelli looking to end a 21-pitch third. 68 total.
Gregory Polanco doubled to center on a belt-high 1-1 change from Fister, but Neil Walker K'd looking to end a 13-pitch fourth. 81 pitches for Fister after four.
Starling Marte reached on an infield single and scored on a double to left by Jung Ho Kang to make it 3-1 Pirates and Kang scored on a groundout by Pedro Alvarez to make it 4-1. 18-pitch frame, 99 total.
• Doug Fister's Line: 5.0 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 Ks, 1 HR, 99 P, 65 S, 5/3 GO/FO.
4. Liriano vs the Nationals: The Washington Nationals connected for seven hits and scored five runs in 5 ⅔ innings pitched against Pittsburgh lefty Francisco Liriano when the Pirates visited D.C. in late June.
Unfortunately for Liriano, he was up against Max Scherzer that day, when the Nats' right-hander threw a no-hitter in Nationals Park.
In four starts since then, however, Liriano has allowed two runs or less, and with the exception of the start against the Nationals, he allowed three runs or less in his last ten outings going back to May 24th.
Since they last saw him, the left-hander was (1-0) in four starts with the Pirates 4-0 in his outings, over which the 31-year-old starter put up a 2.05 ERA and a .215/.298/.290 line against in 26 ⅓ IP.
Liriano was coming off a 6 ⅓-inning outing against the St. Louis Cardinals in which he gave up five hits, four walks and two earned runs when he took the mound tonight in the series opener with Washington.
He entered tonight's game (5-6) on the year with a 2.98 ERA, a 3.09 FIP, 39 walks (3.06 BB/9) and 125 Ks (9.81 K/9) after 18 starts and 114 ⅔ IP, over which he'd held opposing hitters to a combined .191/.265/.291 line.
Liriano retired the side in order in the first, striking Bryce Harper out to end a 14-pitch frame, and added two Ks in the second in a quick, 12-pitch, 1-2-3 inning that left him at 26 pitches overall after two scoreless.
Tyler Moore walked with one down in the third, giving the Nationals their first baserunner against Liriano, but Doug Fister K'd trying to get a bunt down for out no.2, and Michael Taylor K'd swinging over a 1-2 slider to end a 17-pitch third with Liriano's sixth K. 43 total.
After he struck out the side in a 14-pitch fourth, Liriano was up to nine Ks and 57 pitches.
Clint Robinson walked to start the top of the fifth and Ian Desmond lined a single to left for the Nationals' first hit in the next at bat. A wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position with no one out and Dan Uggla up, and after Uggla K'd, the second wild pitch of Tyler Moore's two-out at bat allowed Robinson to score. 2-1.
Moore walked to put runners on the corners with one out, but Doug Fister K'd trying to bunt for the second time in two at bats, and Michael Taylor grounded out to short to end a 33-pitch frame that left Liriano at 90 pitches total.
Danny Espinosa singled to start the sixth, but was forced out at second on a Bryce Harper grounder, and Wilson Ramos grounded into a 6-4-3 in the next AB. Nine-pitch frame, 99 total for Liriano.
Clint Robinson doubled to start the seventh and end Liriano's night...
• Francisco Liriano's Line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 11 Ks, 103 P, 62 S, 6/0 GO/FO.
3. Random Game Notes: The Pirates have lost five of six games out of the Break, but they've won 12 of the last 19 and 14 of 22 coming into the four-game set with the NL East-leading Nationals.
• The Nationals swept the three-game set with the Pirates in the nation's capital in June, though Pittsburgh have won three straight series with Washington in PNC Park.
• Neil Walker is trying to challenge Andrew McCutchen for the role of Nationals-killer. He's reached base safely in 12 of 13 career home games against the Nationals and gone 19 for 50 in those games with three doubles and a HR.
• Francisco Liriano's .214 BAA is the second-lowest among NL lefties since 2013 when he joined the Pirates. Over that period he trails only LA's Clayton Kershaw, and his .192 BAA this season is the NL's third-lowest, behind only the Dodgers' Zack Greinke (.187) and the Nats' Max Scherzer (.190).
• Jung Ho Kang's on-base percentage (.439) this month is the best among MLB rookies.
• The Pirates are 32-16 at home in PNC Park this season, the third-best home record in the majors, behind only the St. Louis Cardinals (33-12) and New York Mets (32-14).
• For today's "Fun with arbitrary end dates", since June 19th, the Nationals have the second-best record in the NL and the third-best record in the majors at 17-9, trailing only the Los Angeles Angels (20-7) and Milwaukee Brewers (18-9).
• Though he went 0 for 3 in Tuesday night's game with the New York Mets, Bryce Harper was hit by a pitch, so he extended his on-base streak to 18-straight games that night and 19 on Wednesday with a 2 for 4 game against the Nationals' NL East rivals. Over that stretch, the 22-year-old outfielder has a .457 OBP.
• Ian Desmond has reached base safely in seven of his last 11 plate appearances heading into tonight's game... thanks, Cal!
2. Turning Point(s): Doug Fister retired the first two batters he faced tonight in PNC Park, but Andrew McCutchen hit a single to center with two down and scored when Starling Marte lined a 2-2 curve to left-center for an RBI triple.
• After leaving a curve up for Marte in the first, Fister left a 1-1 fastball up for Pedro Alvarez in the second and gave up an opposite field home run to left that put the Pirates ahead 2-0 in the second.
• Francisco Liriano took a no-hitter into the fifth, but gave up a walk and a single, to Clint Robinson and Ian Desmond, respectively, and then got a little wild with wild pitches moving both runners into scoring position and allowing Robinson to score to cut the Pirates' lead in half, 2-1.
• After the Nationals scored a run in the top of the fifth, but stranded two runners, the Pirates struck for two more in the bottom of the frame with Jung Ho Kang driving Starling Marte in with a double and then scoring on a groundout by Pedro Alvarez to make it a 4-1 game.
1. The Wrap-Up: Tanner Roark took over on the mound in the bottom of the sixth and retired the side in order in a 15-pitch frame.
Jared Hughes took over on the mound for Liriano after a leadoff double to center by Clint Robinson in the top of the seventh. Ian Desmond grounded out to move Robinson to third, but Dan Uggla K'd swinging for out no.2, leaving it up to Tyler Moore, who grounded out to third to end the frame.
Neil Walker doubled to right on a 1-1 curve and scored when Andrew McCutchen McCrushed a 1-1 fastball, sending a two-run blast to deep center in PNC. 6-1 Pirates after seven.
Antonio Bastardo walked pinch hitter Emmanuel Burriss to start the top of the eighth. Two outs later, Bryce Harper lined a single to right to put two on, but Wilson Ramos sent a one-hopper to second for the third out of the frame.
Abel de Los Santos came on in the bottom of the eighth and gave up a solo home run to center by Francisco Cervelli, 7-1.
Arquimedes Caminero came on to finish it out and walked Clint Robinson on four pitches to start the ninth. Ian Desmond stepped in next and hit a two-run home run to center to make it 7-3 Pirates. Desi's 100th.
That was as close as the Nationals would get... 7-3 Pirates final.
Nationals now 51-43