PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The Pirates were looking to complete their first sweep of the 2012 season on Thursday at PNC Park. But despite right-hander Kevin Correia pitching a quality start, the righty on the other mound was better as the Pirates fell, 4-2 to the Washington Nationals.
Nats Right-hander Stephen Strasburg held the Bucs to just two runs (one earned) on five hits over 6.0 innings. He walked three while striking out 13. His 13 strikeouts were a season-high, and he’s now had four career games with 10 or more strikeouts. Strasburg’s season ERA dropped down to a minuscule 1.63.
“There is a good way to go at him,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s a human being. Before it’s all said and done, he’s going to get beat. You can beat him. We give up one less run tonight, we beat him. You’ve got to scratch, claw, you can’t give up at-bats, you’ve got to push him down in the zone.”
“It was the first time I’ve seen him live. When you look at it with an analytical eye, four-seam fastball gets to 97. Two-seam fastball 91-93 with late life. The breaking ball, he has absolute confidence in, and a changeup. The arm’s fresh. It’s legit. Good composure. He pounded the zone. Some balls down at the knees tight. Got us to bite. Yeah, that’s a good arm. That’s something.”
Strasburg whiffed seven straight from the first until the end of the third inning. Andrew McCutchen was the first of the seven straight, striking out swinging on a 97 mph heater. Pitcher Kevin Correia was caught looking on a filthy 80 mph curve that froze him to end the third. But Jose Tabata ended the streak with a single up the middle to leadoff the fourth for his second hit off Strasburg. Both hits from Tabata came on the first pitch.
“Before the game, mentally I told [myself to] attack him because I know he can throw 95, 96, 97,” Tabata said. “I’m going to go first pitch. I’ve got to be on base for my team.”
After Alex Presley laid down a sac bunt to advance Tabata to second, Andrew McCutchen laced an RBI single into right field to plate the first run. The center fielder advanced to second base on the throw home by Bryce Harper, which resulted in an error. Strasburg picked up his eighth punch out to Pedro Alvarez, but Neil Walker connected for an RBI single into center to drive in the second run of the inning.
The Bucs attempted to rally off the Nats in the sixth. McCutchen, Alvarez and Walker drew three straight two outs walks to load the bases, but Garrett Jones struck out swinging to notch Strasburg’s 13th punch out over 6.0 innings.
“You’d like to think he’d get a good pitch to hit. He’s trying to,” Hurdle said of Jones’ punch out to end the rally. “The one thing we have trouble doing, when we remove ourselves from the game is how difficult it is to play sometimes. How hard it can be. But yeah, it’s one pitch, one zone is what you’re looking for…Sometimes it’s a little more challenging than you think. Sometimes your discipline isn’t quite what you want it to be. When it’s all said and done, you trust your hitter. He’s one of the guys that can change the game with one swing. Unfortunately Strasburg pitched him very effectively tonight.”
Right-hander Kevin Correia was efficient needing just 51 pitches over 5.0 scoreless frames before giving up his first run. Roger Bernadina took a 3-1 fastball for a solo-homer into the visitors bullpen to leadoff the sixth frame.
“He didn’t want to walk Bernadina,” Hurdle said. “He missed with a fastball over the plate and the guy hit it out of the biggest part of the ballpark.”
After walking his next batter, Adam LaRoche took an 0-1 pitch for a two-run shot to center field.
“I knew I missed my spot on that pitch. It wasn’t where I wanted it. He’s a good hitter. He hurt us a couple days ago. He’s gotten me before. I’ve faced him a lot of times. He put a good swing on it,” said Correia, who has now given up four long balls over his last two outings.
“If I could take back one pitch it would be to LaRoche. I fell behind the first guy, had to give him a pitch to hit. I was surprised how well he hit it. Then walk, homer. Then I got back on track. You don’t really have that room for error when you’re facing a guy like Strasburg.”
Overall, Correia allowed three runs on six hits over 7.0 innings. He walked two, struck out one while throwing 81 pitches, 55 strikes. Correia pitched well enough to keep the club in the game. But facing a pitcher like Strasburg, Correia knew there wouldn’t be much margin for error.
“Obviously he’s going to strikeout a lot more guys than I’m going to strikeout,” Correia said. “The name of the game is giving up less runs than the other guy. I’m pretty much facing their lineup. You know you’re going to have to pitch a good game if you’re facing him, which I thought I did a pretty good job of obviously besides a couple mistakes…Coming in, we were light on the bullpen. I needed to be efficient. I did that. If I could take back a pitch or two, I think it would have been a pretty good game.”
“You talk about swings and misses, strikeouts, this and that, and still at this level, you make mistakes — especially up in the zone — hitters still find ways to hit them,” Hurdle said. “And that’s a professional game. Seven innings, three runs. The one inning hurt him. Last outing the one inning kind of dinged him up as well. He gave us length…It’s unfortunate. There was no safety net for him tonight. I think he said it best, he said ,’We don’t need to give him one tonight. He’s going to win enough on his own.’ Kind of the way we felt with the mistakes that he didn’t get away with.”
The Nationals tacked on a run off righty reliever Chris Resop in the top of the ninth inning. Rick Ankiel took a 2-1 pitch for a solo-homer to right field –the third long ball hit by Washington in the game in the Pirates 4-2 loss.