The Washington Nationals go for a series sweep when they host the slumping Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday afternoon.
The Nationals, winners of three straight and six of eight, produced eighth-inning rallies to capture the first two games.
On Monday, Maikel Franco’s two-run homer turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory, and on Tuesday, Yadiel Hernandez smacked a two-run, pinch-hit double to break a tie and lead Washington to a 3-1 win.
The Nationals won those games despite going a combined 2-for-22 with runners in scoring position.
“A win is a win is a win, but we definitely need to get better with runners in scoring position,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “I honestly believe they are trying too hard. When we have a chance to drive in runs, they try hard and they start chasing and not just going up there working good at-bats.”
Former Pirate Josh Bell, who went 2-for-4 with a double on Tuesday, and will look to extend his hitting streak to eight games. He has hit safely in 11 of his last 12.
Meanwhile the Pirates, losers of five straight by a total of seven runs, are 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position while managing just three runs in the series.
“We’re one play away, and right now the (opponents) we’re playing are making that play and we have to create our own breaks,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said.
Pittsburgh’s only run in Tuesday’s game came on Diego Castillo’s solo homer. It was his eighth of the season and sixth in his past 13 games.
Right-hander Mitch Keller (2-5, 4.77 ERA) will try to help the Pirates avert the sweep when he opposes Washington righty Paolo Espino (0-1, 2.21).
Keller has five no-decisions since being reinserted into the rotation at the end of May, but the sinkerballer has posted a 2.96 ERA through 27 1/3 innings.
Last time out, Keller allowed three runs over five innings of a no-decision against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. All three runs came in the second inning, but Keller settled in to toss three scoreless frames before departing.
“I think, in the past, it might have snowballed on me and affected the rest of the game,” Keller said. “Just being able to slow the game down and analyze what’s going on — it’s not as bad as I think it is — and just keep pushing forward.”
Keller gave up four runs on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings in his only prior start against the Nationals, on April 15 of this season.
Espino is set for his fourth start of the season following 20 relief appearances. He has pitched well in each start. In his latest outing, he held the Texas Rangers to one run on six hits over 5 1/3 innings on Friday, taking a no-decision in a game Washington later won 2-1.
“It’s a good sign for us that he can come out and do multiple things for us, and now he’s getting a chance to start and giving us five-plus innings is awesome,” Martinez said. “He kept us in the ballgame. That’s all I can ask him to do.”
Espino is 1-0 against the Pirates in his career and has not allowed a run to them in 8 2/3 innings over three games (one start).
–Field Level Media