5. Ross vs the Pirates: Joe Ross returned to the majors last week, in Stephen Strasburg's spot in the rotation, with a solid 6 ⅓-inning outing against the New York Mets in which he gave up four hits and three runs, two earned in what ended up a 7-2 loss to Washington's NL East rivals. Ross gave up just one run on three hits in the first six innings of work, but ran into trouble in the seventh.
A single and an error put two runners on, and after the Nationals' 22-year-old rookie right-hander recorded the first out of the frame, Nats' skipper Matt Williams went to the bullpen for Aaron Barrett, who gave up a two-run single, allowing both of the runners he inherited to score.
"I thought he pitched well," Williams said after Ross' fifth major league outing.
"He was in command the whole time he was out there. Got up there in pitches and had some trouble there in the last inning, but I thought he pitched great."
This afternoon in PNC Park, Ross was facing a major league opponent for the second time for the first time.
He held the Pirates to one run on six hits in 7 ⅓ innings pitched back on June 19th in the nation's capital, striking out 11 of the 27 batters he faced in a 102-pitch effort in Nationals Park.
Though he was sent down to Triple-A after that start, when Strasburg returned from the DL, Williams said the outing was a confidence-builder.
"It gives him confidence to know that he can pitch against arguably one of the hottest teams in all of baseball and have success," the second-year skipper explained. "And that does nothing but give him confidence."
"He'll continue to do what he does best and that's pound the strike zone with fastballs and use his slider."
Ross took the mound this afternoon in the finale of the Nats' four-game set with the Pirates (2-2) in four starts with a 2.70 ERA, a 1.38 FIP, two walks (0.68 BB/9) and 27 Ks (9.11 K/9) in 26 ⅔ innings, over which he's held opposing hitters to a combined .226/.248/.265 line.
Ross gave up a single to center by Starling Marte with one down in the Pirates' first, but Nats' catcher Wilson Ramos gunned Marte down when he tried to steal second. Andrew McCutchen took a two-out walk, but was stranded when Aramis Ramirez K'd chasing an 0-2 slider out of the zone away. 11-pitch frame.
Pedro Alvarez K'd looking at a 94 mph 2-2 sinker for out no.3 of an 11-pitch second that left Ross at 22 total after two.
Given a 1-0 lead to work with, Ross gave up a leadoff single to right field by Bucs' backstop Chris Stewart, who took second on a sac bunt by Gerrit Cole and scored on a single to center by Gregory Polanco, 1-1.
Polanco took third when the throw home got away from Wilson Ramos.
Ross hit Starling Marte in the jersey in the next at bat, inexplicably drawing warnings for both teams from home plate ump Chris Conroy, and Andrew McCutchen followed with an RBI single to center that put the Pirates ahead, 2-1 after three in PNC. 15-pitch frame. 37 total after three.
Neil Walker's second home run of the four-game set with the Nationals in PNC went out to center in the first at bat of the Pirates' fourth. 3-1 Pittsburgh. Ross retired the next three batters to complete a 16-pitch frame at 53 pitches.
With some help from a leaping Michael Taylor in center, who robbed Gregory Polanco of an extra base hit, and a diving Yunel Escobar at third, Ross completed an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth that left him at 64 after five.
A 14-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth left Ross at 78 pitches... that was his last inning of work.
• Joe Ross' Line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 Ks, 1 HR, 78 P, 51 S, 6/2 GO/FO.
4. Cole Hearted: The Nationals missed the current National and Major League leader in wins, Pirates' starter Gerrit Cole (13-4), when the two teams played a three-game set in D.C. in late June.
That's probably a good thing, since Pittsburgh's 24-year-old, 2011 1st Round pick (no.1 overall) has been tearing through opposing teams so far in his third major league campaign.
Heading into the series finale in PNC Park this afternoon, Cole sported a 2.31 ERA and a 2.68 FIP, with 28 walks (2.02 BB/9) and 122 Ks (8.81 K/9) in 124 ⅔ innings pitched, over which he'd held opposing hitters to a combined .233/.289/.324 line.
He was facing Washington for just the third time in his three major league seasons, after going (1-0) with a 2.08 ERA and a .159/.275/.295 line against in 13 innings pitched in the previous two outings.
At home in Pittsburgh this season, in nine starts, Cole was (7-2) with a 2.79 ERA, a 2.96 FIP and a .240/.285/.355 line against in 58 IP before today.
Cole's tenth start of the season in the Pirates' home began with a scoreless eight-pitch first that ended when Gregory Polanco threw a strike to Jung Ho Kang at second to nail Bryce Harper on a line drive to right that looked like a two-base hit off the bat.
Yunel Escobat took a 95 mph fastball to the ribs in the first at bat of the second, and took his base, but Escobar was forced out at second on a ground ball to the right side by Clint Robinson, who was stranded two outs later. 10-pitch second for Cole, 18 total after two.
Cole struck the first two batter he faced in the third out, but a 1-0 fastball low in the zone to Michael Taylor ended up five rows back in the center field seats. Solo HR. 1-0 Nationals. Danny Espinosa singled in the next at bat and stole second, but was stranded when Bryce Harper K'd swinging at back-to-back pitches out of the zone. 23-pitch frame, 41 total for Cole after three.
Given a 2-1 lead to work with, Cole retired the Nationals in order in an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 fourth that left him at 52 pitches.
With the score 3-1 Pirates after Neil Walker's fourth-inning blast, Cole retired the Nationals in order in a 14-pitch fifth that left him at 66 pitches after five. A 13-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth left Cole at 79 pitches overall.
Clint Robinson snapped Cole's streak of eleven-straight batters set down with a one-out double to left-center in the top of the seventh. Ian Desmond followed with an opposite field single to right, but Wilson Ramos grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 in the next at bat. Six-pitch frame, 85 total.
Nats' pinch hitter Anthony Rendon lined a one-out single to center field in the Nationals' eighth, but Michael Taylor K'd swinging at a 1-2 slider outside. Danny Espinosa shot a single through the left side with two down and knocked Cole out.
• Gerrit Cole's Line: 7.2 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 Ks, 1 HR, 103 P, 69 S, 8/2 GO/FO.
3. Random Game Notes: The Pirates, entering today's 1:35 PM EDT series finale, were 12-1 in afternoon games in PNC Park this season.
• Gerrit Cole's 1.96 ERA in day games in the NL's lowest too, so apparently the Pirates like day games in PNC.
• If the Pirates can draw more than 36,464 fans to this afternoon's matchup with the Nationals, they can set a PNC Park record for attendance in a four-game set. 114,355 fans have attended the first three games.
• The Pirates have won eight in a row and 17 of the last 18 games when scoring 4+ runs.
• Bryce Harper extended is on-base streak to 22-straight games last night. He's also reached base safely in 41 road games in a row. He was up to 23 and 32 after a single in the first, on which he was thrown out at second.
• Michael Taylor, who came up big last night in the Nationals' win, has a .404 AVG with RISP, which is fourth-best in the NL. He's 23 for 57 with four doubles, a triple and two home runs w/ RISP so far this season. Is that clutch?
Matt Williams thinks so: "Again, came up clutch for us with a guy in scoring position and two out," he said after last night's win, in which Taylor singled in a run with two out in the fourth.
• Today's updated "Fun with arbitrary end points" segment: The Nationals are 18-11 since June 19th, the third-best record in the NL over that stretch, behind only St. Louis (20-11) and Milwaukee (19-11). The've outscored opponents 117-87 since June 19th.
2. Turning Point(s): Michael Taylor homered to center late in last night's win over the Pirates and hit his second blast in three at bats in the top of the third today, taking a 93 mph 1-0 fastball low in the zone from Gerrit Cole to deep center field in PNC Park for a solo home run that made it 1-0 Nationals early in the series finale.
• Gregory Polanco singled in a run with one down in the Pirates' third, and took third base when the throw home on the play got away from Wilson Ramos and Joe Ross behind the dish. Andrew McCutchen brought Polanco in with another single to center field and Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead to the fourth. Neil Walker's solo shot in the home-half of the fourth inning put the Pirates up 3-1.
1. The Wrap-Up: Matt Thornton took over for the Nationals in the bottom of the seventh and retired the Pirates in order in an eight-pitch frame.
One and two-out singles off Gerrit Cole in the eighth knocked him out of the game. Bryce Harper stepped in against left-handed reliever Tony Watson with two on and two down and grounded out to first to end the threat.
Casey Janssen retired the Pirates in order in the eighth.
Mark Melancon came on for the save in the top of the ninth and retired the Nationals in order. 3-1 Pirates.
Nationals now 52-45