Nats delay fill-in starter decision until later in week

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When it came time to map out their pitching plans for today’s doubleheader, the Nationals had to consider multiple factors.

* Should they use regular starters Josiah Gray and Joan Adon, taking stress off their bullpen today but forcing them to find a fill-in starter later this week?

* Should they use one starter today and use their bullpen in the nightcap, saving Adon for Wednesday and keeping the rest of the rotation intact the rest of the week?

* Should they use their allotted 29th player for the doubleheader on a spot starter from Triple-A?

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Game 12 lineups: Nats vs. Diamondbacks

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It’s a cold, windy Tuesday in the nation’s capital, but at least it’s not raining anymore. So guess what? Let’s play two!

Yes, we’ve got our first doubleheader of the season following the postponement of Monday night’s scheduled series opener between the Nationals and Diamondbacks. That game is being made up this afternoon at 1:05 p.m., with the originally scheduled 7:05 p.m. game still on tap for this evening.

Keep in mind all doubleheader games are once again scheduled for nine innings after two years of the seven-inning trial during the peak of the pandemic. That means pitching is of the essence, and the Nats will need to get length from their starters today.

With that in mind, Davey Martinez is sticking with both of his originally scheduled starters for the first two games of this series. It’s Josiah Gray in the afternoon game, then Joan Adon in the nightcap. They’ll have to find a spot starter sometime this weekend, likely Saturday, but they’ll delay that decision for now.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS at WASHINGTON NATIONALS (Game 1)
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 51 degrees, wind 19 mph out to right field

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What have we learned about the Nats so far?

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The season’s first two weeks have mostly been a blur. The Nationals played 11 games in 11 days, with multiple rain delays, one lighting delay, two road trips and a bunch of long nights along the way before finally getting a chance to catch their breath Monday.

That wasn’t even supposed to be a day off. If not for the persistent rain all day and night here, the Nats would’ve continued a stretch of 18 games in 18 days to begin the season, not getting their first scheduled day off until next Monday.

But since they did get a chance to hit the pause button for just a moment before it starts back up again with today’s doubleheader against the Diamondbacks, let’s take this moment to assess how things have gone so far.

Eleven games in, what have we learned about the 2022 Nationals?

* The rotation is shaky
This isn’t a surprise. It was the No. 1 area of concern entering the season. But now that we’ve seen two full turns of the rotation (plus Patrick Corbin a third time), we have actual evidence the concern was valid. Nats starters have a 5.80 ERA (fourth-worst in the majors) while averaging only 4.5 innings per outing. Nobody has completed six innings yet. There have been a handful of encouraging starts from Josiah Gray, Erick Fedde and Josh Rogers, but Corbin continues to struggle and Joan Adon looks very much like a rookie with minimal experience in the upper levels of the minors.

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Series opener postponed, day-night doubleheader Tuesday

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With rain in the forecast all afternoon and evening, the Nationals wasted little time making a call on tonight’s series opener against the Diamondbacks, announcing it has been postponed seven hours before scheduled first pitch.

The two teams will now play a split doubleheader Tuesday, with a new game starting at 1:05 p.m. ahead of the originally scheduled 7:05 p.m. nightcap. Both games will be nine innings, with Major League Baseball returning to longstanding rules after instituting seven-inning games for doubleheaders in 2020-21.

Fans holding tickets for tonight’s game can use them for the 1:05 p.m. game Tuesday or exchange them for tickets to an available future game. A separate ticket is required for the 7:05 p.m. game.

The rainout doesn’t necessarily come at a bad time for the Nationals, who just completed the first 11 games of a scheduled 18-day marathon with no breaks to open the season. With only two members of their rotation having even reached the sixth inning so far, the pitching staff has been taxed during a 4-7 opening stretch.

The Nats got home late Sunday night following a seven-game trip to Atlanta and Pittsburgh, having won two of three against the defending World Series champion Braves before dropping three of four to the Pirates.

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Dramatic resurgence has turned Doolittle back into top reliever

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Ask Sean Doolittle if there’s one thing he can point to above all else to explain his dramatic return to form this season, and the answer might catch you off-guard.

“To be honest, I think it’s my brain,” the Nationals reliever said over the weekend in Pittsburgh.

Wait, even when trying to explain how his velocity has increased?

“Yeah,” he insisted. “Because I think over the last couple years, when you’re not throwing with confidence and you’re thinking: ‘Where do my hands need to be? Or where does my front side need to be when I break my hands? Or how am I moving?’ Your body can’t do a thing like that and compete at the same time. You can’t move quickly. You’re not going to have the same conviction behind the ball. That’s what I meant when I said it’s about confidence.”

Whatever the reason, the difference in results is impossible to ignore. Five appearances into the season, Doolittle has yet to allow a batter to reach base. He has faced 14 of them. He has retired 14 of them (six via strikeout). He has thrown only 46 pitches in total, 35 of them strikes.

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Bullpen blows first lead, Nats drop series in Pittsburgh (updated)

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PITTSBURGH – The Nationals’ formula for success this season, tried and true through the first 10 games, went awry this afternoon at PNC Park. They got the five-inning start that to date has guaranteed victory, only to watch Patrick Corbin fade in the sixth and one of their most-trusted relievers, Steve Cishek, give up the lead in the seventh.

Throw in their worst defensive showing of the year, and what was shaping up to be a simple win over the Pirates in their series finale instead morphed into a 5-3 loss that devolved rather abruptly on this 42-degree Easter Sunday.

“Those little things, we got to clean up,” said manager Davey Martinez in one of several rare displays of public criticism of his team over the last few days. “We can’t give teams extra outs. We’re not going to win games like that.”

Corbin’s sixth-inning woes turned a three-run lead into a one-run lead. Cishek then gave up three runs himself in the bottom of the seventh, the first time the Nationals’ so-called “A” bullpen has blown a late lead.

There were other mistakes along the way. Third baseman Maikel Franco was charged with three errors, two of them on one play. The lineup failed to take advantage of late scoring opportunities after plating three early runs. And Josh Bell was narrowly thrown out at the plate trying to score from first on Franco’s seventh-inning double to left, aggressively waved around by third base coach Gary DiSarcina.

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Adams adapting to less playing time, Strange-Gordon drives home

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PITTSBURGH – Riley Adams has been a No. 1 catcher most of his life. He played all the time at the University of San Diego. He topped 400 plate appearances in the Blue Jays farm system in both 2018 and 2019.

That’s not going to be the case with the Nationals. Not unless something happens to Keibert Ruiz, the unquestioned No. 1 catcher here now.

So Adams has to start learning how to keep himself productive at the plate when he’s only catching once or twice per week.

“It’s a little different,” the 25-year-old said. “But it just means you’ve got to spend a little more time before the games behind the scenes making sure you’re as prepared as you can be.”

Adams is behind the plate for today’s series finale against the Pirates. It’s only his third start in 11 team games to date. And with very little opportunity to pinch-hit now that the designated hitter has come to the National League, there’s little reason to worry about coming off the bench in-game these days.

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Game 11 lineups: Nats at Pirates

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PITTSBURGH – It’s cold. Really cold. Like, there were snow flurries this morning cold. But there’s a series finale to play this afternoon, and the Nationals and Pirates will be bundled up when they take the field at 1:35 p.m.

The Nats really could use this one. After winning two of three in Atlanta, the last thing they want to do is lose three of four in Pittsburgh. It’s going to take a much better start from Patrick Corbin, though, to give them a chance. The left-hander was battered around by the Braves last time out. He was working in the bullpen with pitching coach Jim Hickey on some things the other day. At this point, the Nationals will take any improvement they can get from him.

They’d like to score a few more runs than they did Saturday night, as well, when they went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and needed a two-run rally in the ninth just to get to four total for the game. They’ll be going up against Pirates left-hander Jose Quintana, who held the Cubs to one earned run in 5 1/3 innings in his season debut.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Where: PNC Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Mostly sunny, 42 degrees, wind 8 mph out to right field

NATIONALS
2B César Hernández
RF Juan Soto
DH Nelson Cruz
1B Josh Bell
3B Maikel Franco
LF Lane Thomas
SS Alcides Escobar
C Riley Adams
CF Victor Robles

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Little things in the field cost Nats late in loss

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PITTSBURGH – Davey Martinez has been talking about “the little things” since joining the Nationals in 2018. It’s a common refrain from the fifth-year manager, highlighting the importance of all those small, mundane moments during the course of a ballgame that actually make a difference in the final outcome.

And there were several little things during Saturday night’s 6-4 loss to the Pirates that did make a difference, not in a positive way.

The bottom of the eighth, most notably, featured a string of defensive mistakes that helped Pittsburgh score three tack-on runs against Kyle Finnegan, turning a one-run deficit into a four-run hole the Nats couldn’t climb all the way back from in the ninth.

It all began on the first ball in play of the inning. Michael Chavis’ line drive into the left field corner should’ve been an easy standup double for the Pirates first baseman. But then Yadiel Hernandez turned it into a triple.

Playing his first inning in the field after pinch-hitting for Victor Robles in the top of the inning, Hernandez was slow to get to the ball in the corner. Then he made a casual throw to the infield, and Chavis (who was all set to stop at second base) noticed it and immediately took off for third.

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Soto's splashdown homer not enough in Nats loss (updated)

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PITTSBURGH – The Nationals had more than their share of opportunities to deliver hits in big spots tonight during a 6-4 loss to the Pirates. The story of this game can be told in the simple fact they went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position, and one of the hits came in the top of the ninth while trailing by three runs.

What will be remembered most from this loss, then, is the biggest hit they did get: a Juan Soto home run that did something nobody around here remembers ever seeing at PNC Park.

Soto’s fifth-inning missile to right cleared the 21-foot-high Clemente Wall, landed in one of the tunnels separating seating areas, bounced off the concourse and somehow found its resting place in the Allegheny River down below.

“I didn’t know about it,” he said. “Not at all. I just saw it going through the hallway.”

It was the latest “He Did What?!” moment from Soto in a career filled with plenty of them since the star slugger debuted in 2018. If only it hadn’t come in a loss, not that it was his fault. Soto reached base four times for the second straight night, adding two walks and a ninth-inning double to his earlier homer.

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Sánchez needs time to build up arm, Escobar gets Nats' first successful steal

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PITTSBURGH – Aníbal Sánchez’s neck has healed enough to allow him to begin throwing again, but the veteran right-hander is going to need some time now to build himself back up before he’s ready to pitch for the Nationals.

Sánchez played catch Friday for the first time since landing on the 10-day injured list with a cervical nerve impingement, and manager Davey Martinez said everything went well during that session. But this is just the first step in a longer process to get him back into big league shape.

“He said it felt better, so we’ve got to build him up now,” Martinez said. “Obviously, he missed some time. He’s off today, he’s strengthening. We’ll build him up and see where we get him.”

Sánchez, who was signed early in spring training to a minor league contract, was ticketed to open the season in the Nationals’ rotation, and the club added him to its 40-man roster as camp ended. But when he reported a stiff neck following the team’s charter flight from West Palm Beach, Fla., to Washington, he landed on the IL and Josh Rogers was recalled from Triple-A Rochester to take his rotation spot.

Rogers makes his second start of the season tonight, hoping to build off a strong performance Monday night in Atlanta. The lefty figures to remain in the big league rotation for the time being, given that Sánchez needs more time to work his way back.

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Game 10 lineups: Nats at Pirates

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PITTSBURGH – The weather has taken a major turn for the worse here over the last 24 hours. It’s been cold and rainy all day, miserable weather for baseball. The good news, however, is that it’s supposed to clear out before first pitch tonight. It’s still not going to be very pleasant conditions when the Nationals and Pirates play the third game of their four-game series, but they should be able to play.

It’ll be Josh Rogers on the mound for the Nats, making his second start and hoping to pick up right where he left off in Atlanta on Monday night, when he held the Braves to one run and two hits in 5 1/3 innings. Rogers’ future in the rotation isn’t 100 percent certain beyond this, but you have to think a halfway decent start tonight buys him more time here regardless.

Bryse Wilson starts for the Pirates. The 24-year-old right-hander previously pitched for the Braves, so several of the Nats regulars have a little bit of experience against him. Maikel Franco is 2-for-3 with a homer and a walk against Wilson. Lane Thomas is 1-for-3 with a homer. César Hernández, who will be looking to reach base to lead off the game for the sixth consecutive day, is 1-for-6 with a triple off Wilson.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Where: PNC Park
Gametime: 6:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Rain ending, 52 degrees, wind 9 mph out to left field

NATIONALS
2B César Hernández
RF Juan Soto
DH Nelson Cruz
1B Josh Bell
C Keibert Ruiz
3B Maikel Franco
LF Lane Thomas
SS Alcides Escobar
CF Victor Robles

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An "emotional" first promotion to the majors for Casey

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PITTSBURGH – Donovan Casey was sitting in a meeting with his Rochester Red Wings teammates Thursday afternoon, learning about nutrition, when manager Matt LeCroy told the group someone had just been called up by the Nationals.

Casey, a 26-year-old outfielder, just assumed it was one of the pitchers, probably a reliever. Until the name that came out of LeCroy’s mouth sounded a little too familiar.

“At the time, I was shoveling food in my mouth,” he said. “He says: ‘Donovan Casey, you’re going up.’ And I was like, huh? … It threw me off a little bit. It was a very emotional day. But I’m happy to be here.”

Casey was retelling the story Friday afternoon inside the visitors’ clubhouse at PNC Park, having indeed been the one who got the call-up to the big leagues for the first time, the shock now wearing off. He had spent the previous 24 hours letting his family and friends know the news, packing up his belongings and making his way with his wife from Rochester to Pittsburgh, where a major league uniform awaited him.

“Emotional,” he said of his phone calls to break the news. “Obviously, when I first told my wife I was getting called up, she was like: ‘Really?’ I was like yeah, I’m not messing with you. She was ecstatic. Honestly, she was more excited than I was. She’s been through the whole entire grind with me, all the ups and downs. I love my dad to death, but I had to tell her (first) because she’s been through thick and thin. It was very emotional.”

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Top of lineup makes it easy for Fedde and bullpen

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PITTSBURGH – They got plenty of production from the top of their lineup. They got the five innings they needed from their starter. And by the time they needed to turn to their bullpen, the Nationals held a comfortable enough lead for manager Davey Martinez to bypass a few of his best relievers and save them for another day.

All in all, that spelled a very good night for the Nats, who waltzed to a 7-2 victory over the Pirates on Jackie Robinson Day at PNC Park.

As had been the case in each of their three previous wins, the Nationals got at least five innings from their starter, with Erick Fedde completing five up-and-downs tonight despite an elevated pitch count early. That’s been the clear formula for the team’s success so far in 2022.

Sustained offensive production hasn’t always been a hallmark, but it was on display tonight, particularly from the top four batters in Martinez’s lineup. César Hernández, Juan Soto, Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell went a combined 8-for-16 with three walks and six RBIs, leading the way.

For the fifth time in five days on this road trip, Hernández reached base leading off the top of the first. And for the fourth time, he wound up scoring to give the Nationals a quick lead.

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Strange-Gordon on IL with unspecified illness, Casey recalled

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PITTSBURGH – The Nationals placed Dee Strange-Gordon, who remains in the team’s downtown hotel with an illness, on the injured list today. The club did not specify which IL the utilityman was placed on, nor divulged what his ailment is, which is how they handled situations the last two seasons when a player tested positive for COVID-19.

Asked this afternoon how Strange-Gordon was doing, manager Davey Martinez said only: “I can’t really talk about much, but he’s doing better.”

Martinez added that no other players were unable to report to the clubhouse. Three players were seen this afternoon wearing masks while indoors, a protocol this season for vaccinated team members who have been deemed close contacts to someone who tests positive. Any unvaccinated players who are determined to be close contacts would have to quarantine for five days.

Strange-Gordon initially was announced as part of the Nationals lineup for Thursday’s series opener against the Pirates, though he never did appear at the ballpark. About 30 minutes before first pitch, the club announced he had been scratched for unspecified reasons.

Players on the COVID-19 IL are removed from the 40-man roster, and the Nats moved quickly today to acquire someone else to take Strange-Gordon’s spot, claiming outfielder Joshua Palacios off waivers from the Blue Jays.

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Game 9 lineups: Nats at Pirates

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PITTSBURGH - Manager Davey Martinez could also use a more consistent performance from his lineup, which on Thursday busted out for three quick runs in the top of the first against Pirates starter J.T. Brubaker and then went mostly silent the rest of the way.

As expected, the Nationals have made a roster move today. Dee Strange-Gordon has been placed on the injured list with an unspecified ailment. As Martinez said Thursday night, he’s back at the hotel with an illness. He has come off the 40-man roster, which is what happens when someone is placed on the COVID-19 IL. (The Nats immediately filled that 40-man roster spot by claiming outfielder Joshua Palacios from the Blue Jays an optioning him to Triple-A Rochester.)

Taking Strange-Gordon’s spot on the big league roster is outfielder Donovan Casey, one of the four prospects acquired from the Dodgers last summer for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. Casey had played in six games for Rochester so far, hitting .250 with two doubles, two triples, a homer and six RBIs.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Where: PNC Park
Gametime: 6:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 66 degrees, wind 13 mph out to left field

NATIONALS
2B César Hernández
RF Juan Soto
DH Nelson Cruz
1B Josh Bell
C Keibert Ruiz
LF Yadiel Hernandez
3B Maikel Franco
CF Lane Thomas
SS Alcides Escobar
RHP Erick Fedde

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Friday morning Nats Q&A

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PITTSBURGH - It's been an eventful start to the season. Eight games in, we've seen some very good things, we've seen some pretty bad things and we've seen plenty of unexpected things, both on and off the field.
 
The Nationals are 3-5 after Thursday night's series-opening loss to the Pirates. It was a disappointing outcome on the heels of a series win in Atlanta, but there are still three games to go here and still an opportunity to head home with a winning record.
 
First up, let's take some time this morning to answer your questions. Surely you have a lot on your mind. (You do, and don't call me Shirley!) If you've got something you'd like to ask, post it in the comments section below, then check back throughout the morning for my responses. I'll do the best I can to answer whatever I can ...
 
 
 

Bad version of Nats shows up again in loss to Bucs

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PITTSBURGH – Eight games in, here’s what we can say about the 2022 Nationals: When they’re good, they look really good; when they’re not … well, you can finish that sentence however you like.

The Nats have now won three and lost five following a 9-4 loss to the Pirates that will quickly be cast into the dustbin of forgettable games, with no reason to watch the replay.

It falls right into the same category as Tuesday night’s blowout loss in Atlanta, as well as the three season-opening losses to the Mets last week. Forgettable games, all of them, defined by poor starting pitching, not enough hitting and not enough ability by the lesser half of their bullpen to keep a deficit within a manageable margin.

They’ve been in stark contrast to the Nationals’ four wins to date, each of them defined by a solid starting performance, clutch hitting and dominant work by manager Davey Martinez’s so-called “A” bullpen.

The most notable development to come out of tonight’s affair: Dee Strange-Gordon was scratched from the lineup after feeling ill and stayed at the team hotel. Martinez couldn’t offer up any more detail than that, including on the possibility of a roster move before Friday’s game.

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Robles on bench again as Martinez looks for best matchups

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PITTSBURGH – Victor Robles is the Nationals’ starting center fielder. And he’ll continue to be their starting center fielder. As long the matchups on a particular day work in his favor.

For the third time in eight games to begin the season, the matchup isn’t in Robles’ favor. Pirates starter J.T. Brubaker has a particularly tough slider, so Davey Martinez decided to leave Robles on the bench tonight and instead play Dee Strange-Gordon in center field.

“We look at all his data, and we know Victor struggles against guys with good sliders,” Martinez said. “So tonight I felt like we’re just going to continue to work with him on his swing, get him some extra swings, and then get him back in there tomorrow. We’re looking at all this stuff.”

Robles, who has started five games so far, remains hitless in 15 at-bats. His only two productive plate appearances resulted in a sacrifice bunt and a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch that resulted in his lone RBI of the season.

Hitting coach Darnell Coles has been working with Robles on mechanical changes to his swing since late in spring training. Coles wants him starting his hands in a better position to allow for quicker movement to the ball. It remains a work in progress, as the results to date show.

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Game 8 lineups: Nats at Pirates

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PITTSBURGH – It is an absolutely beautiful afternoon here along the banks of the Allegheny River. Could get a little chilly tonight, but the skies are clear and the vista of downtown and the Clemente Bridge beyond PNC Park is as good as it gets.

The Nationals open a four-game weekend series against the Pirates, hoping to keep the positive momentum they generated in Atlanta going. After seven straight with the Mets and Braves to begin the season, they now get eight straight against the Pirates and Diamondbacks. Perhaps an opportunity to make some headway against lesser competition.

Joan Adon makes his second start of the season, his third as a big leaguer. The kid carried a shutout into the fifth inning against New York before fading. We’ll see if his stamina is built up a bit more now and he can complete that second trip through the lineup.

The lineup that will face Pittsburgh right-hander J.T. Brubaker includes Yadiel Hernandez in left field and Dee Strange-Gordon in center. So that means both Lane Thomas and Victor Robles are sitting. Everything else looks normal, including Nelson Cruz back in the lineup for the second straight day, so his groin must be feeling fine.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Where: PNC Park
Gametime: 6:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Clear, 60 degrees, wind 12 mph out to left field

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