Pitchers: Francisco Liriano (5-8, 5,15) opens the second half against Stephen Strasburg (12-0, 2.62). Liriano showed some signs of coming out of his tailspin in his last outing; we'll see if he can kick it in gear for the second half of the season. Francisco has just four starts against the Nats with a career 3.70 ERA, and does a little better in their place, posting a 3.38 ERA in two starts. As we've noted, the league-wide tendency is to take more pitches this year, and Frankie has not responded well. He leads the MLB in walks at 5.6/nine IP and worked past five innings once since June, so some early strikes and a lower pitch count would be good things. Strasburg got back in the saddle recently after missing a couple of starts to a back tweak, tho he took a rain check on the ASG. He's on the short list of great NL arms with 132 strikeouts in 106-2/3 IP. He's 2-2/2.83 in five starts against the Pirates in his career, but given up just 23 hits and fanned 54 while tossing 35 IP in those five matches.
|Frankie leads the Bucs into Part II of the campaign (photo Pittsburgh Pirates)|
Lineup: Josh Harrison 2B, David Freese 1B, Cutch CF, Starling Marte LF, Matt Joyce RF, Jung Ho Kang 3B, Jordy SS, Eric Fryer C, Frankie P. No Gregory and oddly, no JJ v a righty. We're not sure why that may be.
Preview: The Nationals' division lead is six games after taking 3-of-4 from the Mets as they have responded well to Dusty Baker's old school touch at the helm. They have the second-best run differential in baseball, and they're on a 97-win pace (54-36). Their pitching is MLB tops in ERA (3.30) and second in WAR (13.9), and the stick support, fueled by Bucco bugaboos long balls and walks, has been good enough; they've scored 20 more runs than the Pirates, by comparison. This is the first 2016 series between the clubs. Last year the Nats took 4-of-7 from the Pirates, including a DC sweep. It's a pretty good test right out of the blocks for a resurgent Pittsburgh nine, especially with Strasburg, Roarke and Scherzer giving the exam.
- The first move of the day: @BiertempfelTrib broke the news that Jon Niese is off to the bullpen. Guess Neil's having problems lining up a buyer, and it makes sense as Jon is fairly effective in his first two frames with a 2.50 ERA and .226 OBA.
- The DL is confusing with all the Bucs on it. Here's who's out and when they're due back: Fran Cervelli, Gerrit Cole and Elias Diaz are eligible to return now, Jameson Taillon can be activated tomorrow, Chris Stewart on Monday and Ryan Vogelsong on the 23rd. Cole is starting Saturday, Taillon and Stewart are in R&R mode (Stew may or may not need surgery; that's TBD) and the others are making rehab appearances. It will be a little touchy with 40-man moves due for Diaz and V-Song, who are on the 60-day DL, so we expect both to max out their rehab periods.
- Cervelli began his comeback yesterday at Indy. He has 20 days to work his way into game shape, though we expect him back way before that deadline passes. BTW, he went 2-for-4 with a walk and an RBI while catching seven frames.
|Fran's working his way back (photo Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News)|
- If you're wondering: Tyler Glasnow's option was used on July 8th, so he's eligible to return on Monday. It looks like the FO was just giving his arm a break as he's not working a turn at Indy. Like Taillon, he's probably getting an extended blow both as an inning brake and a time-stalling treadmill awaiting any possible Bucco moves involving Jon Niese (MetsBlog posts about buyer's remorse on the part of NH for that deal, as stated on a radio program) and/or Jeff Locke. The trade deadline this year is August 1st. Since July 31st is a Sunday, the date was carried over into the next working day.
- The only other question is whether Gregory Polanco will return to action or go on the DL retroactively (he hasn't played since July 8th) for his leg injury. He's out again today and someone has to vacate the roster tomorrow for Gerrit Cole's return.
- Matt Eddy of Baseball America offers his view of the Bucs' 2019 lineup, with a more detailed synopsis behind a subscription wall.
- Today is the deadline for signing draftees. @JonHeyman tweeted that the Pirates wished #41 pick Nick Lodolo well as the LHP will go to TCU. The Bucs offered him $1.75M, essentially the max. He's the only early pick not to sign. The Bucs used the remaining pool money to sign Canadian prep RHP Austin Shields, a #33 round overslot pick, for $205K as first reported by Pirates Prospects @JohnDrecker. The 6'6", 18 year old Shields touches 94 and sits at 88-92 with a fledgling slider.
- Joe Beimel, 39, was released by the Royals, who had stashed him in AAA.