It’s been a struggle to score runs for the Washington Nationals thus far in 2013. They entered play Saturday against the Pittsburg Pirates third to last in the Majors in runs per game. They continued to struggle to come up with the big hits, going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position which stranded 11 runners, but found a way to push a run across late, earning a 5-4 win before 29,975 at PNC Park.
Stephen Strasburg continued his erratic 2013, giving up two two-run home runs, but otherwise limiting the damage to keep the Nats in the game until the late innings. Strasburg allowed four earned runs on five hits and one walk, striking out eight. He hardly looked in control much of the game, missing his target often and even hitting two batters, but the big righty found a way to wiggle out of most of his jams.
The Nats (16-15) got on the board first against Jeff Locke in the third inning. Roger Bernadina got on base the hard way — he was hit by a pitch. He went to third on an error by Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes, which allowed Strasburg to reach first. Danny Espinosa was called out on strikes, but Ian Desmond hit a fly ball to center that looked like it might go, but the wind knocked it down and resulted in a sacrifice fly to score the run.
The Pirates (17-13) answered in the bottom half. Clint Barmes lifted a ball to right field leading off, but Tyler Moore misplayed the ball and it fell in front of him for a single. Locke sacrificed Barmes up 90 feet, but that didn’t matter, as Starling Marte jumped all over Strasburg’s first-pitch fastball, drilling it to right center for a two-run home run that should have been a solo shot.
Barmes got to Strasburg again in the fifth. After a leadoff single by Jordy Mercer, Barmes ripped a 1-0 fastball through the breeze into the home team bullpen — which is behind the visitor’s pen in right center — to put the Pirates up 4-2.
The Nats tied the game in the sixth inning. Bryce Harper led off with a soft single to center, and Ryan Zimmerman drew a walk against Locke. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle asked for lefty reliever Justin Wilson to face Adam LaRoche. Wilson walked LaRoche on a 3-2 count to load the bases. After a Tyler Moore strikeout, Wilson Ramos laced a single up the middle — to break an 0-for-16 streak — and both Harper and Zimmerman scored to even the game. Unfortunately the rally ended as Roger Bernadina struck out on three pitches and Strasburg K’d as well.
The Nats loaded the bases again in the seventh, but Moore struck out to end the inning. Moore stranded six runners in consecutive innings without putting the ball in play.
The Nationals — and Moore — finally broke through in the ninth inning. Harper struck out leading off, but Pirates reliever Tony Watson hit Zimmerman on the front leg on a 2-2 count. LaRoche singled to move Zimmerman up, then two of the slower Nats base runners pulled off a double steal with Moore up to bat. After a foul ball, Moore lifted a fly ball to deep right, and Zimmerman raced home ahead of the throw.
Rafael Soriano earned his 10th save of the season to make the one-run lead stand up. He was helped by Roger Bernadina, who threw out Russell Martin trying to stretch a single into a double on his leadoff hit. Tyler Clippard was awarded the win with a scoreless eighth inning, where he made a nifty snare of a soft line drive to start a double play.
THE GOOD: Adam LaRoche. The first baseman is off to a rough start this season, but he was on base four times with a single and three walks. He must be seeing the ball better and that should start to lead to better contact.
THE BAD: Ian Desmond. 0-for-4, 2 Ks, 3 LOB. Desmond really expanded his strike zone for a down offensive day.
THE UGLY: Strasburg gutted out seven innings, but Clint Barmes has no business making solid contact against Strasburg, let alone clubbing a homer into the second bullpen in left center.
THE STATS: 6 hits, 6 BBs, 8 Ks. 1-for-10 with RISP, 11 LOB. E: Ramos (3, throw). 2 DPs.
NEXT GAME: Sunday at 1:35 pm against the Pirates. Gio Gonzalez (2-2, 5.34) faces Wandy Rodriguez (2-1, 3.91).