Gerrit Cole can accomplish something no one on the Pittsburgh Pirates has done in 44 years.
The Washington Nationals have had trouble against him in the past and figure to have their hands full judging by how Cole has fared against NL East opponents.
Cole can improve to 6-0 against that division and become the Pirates’ first 14-game winner before August since 1971 when he starts in Sunday’s four-game series finale at PNC Park.
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Cole (13-4, 2.31 ERA) can add to his major league-leading victory total and become the first Pirate to reach 14 wins before August since Dock Ellis was 15-4 through July in 1971.
The right-hander missed a chance to earn that distinction Tuesday when he allowed three runs in 7 1-3 innings in a 3-1 loss at Kansas City. He fell to 8-2 with a 2.25 ERA in his last 11 outings.
Cole is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts against the Nationals, with Wilson Ramos 2 for 5 against him and Anthony Rendon 1 for 5. He has a 1.27 ERA in winning all five starts against the NL East.
The All-Star will try to slow down the red-hot Ian Desmond, who has homered in three straight games for the second time – also doing so June 19-21, 2013. Desmond is 10 for 19 with four homers and seven RBIs in a six-game hitting streak after he was hitless in 16 at-bats.
"He’s hit some balls in the middle of the diamond for power that tells me and everybody else that he’s staying on the baseball a little bit better," manager Matt Williams said.
Desmond has a homer in four at-bats versus Cole.
Rendon went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and a sacrifice fly in Saturday’s 9-3 victory in his return to the lineup after missing 23 games with a strained left quadriceps. Michael Taylor homered among four hits and drove in three runs.
Washington star Bryce Harper has reached base in 22 straight games. He’s 3 for 11 in this series and 7 for 33 at PNC Park – the only NL stadium in which he has yet to homer.
Pittsburgh (56-41) fell to 13-2 at home against NL East foes and lost for the second time in 12 games there.
Francisco Cervelli is 6 for 12 in this series while Jung Ho Kang is 13 for 27 in a seven-game hitting streak. Pedro Alvarez homered in the first two games and did not start Saturday, going 1 for 2 after entering as part of a double switch.
Rookie Joe Ross (2-2, 2.70) makes his fifth start for the Nationals (52-44) and second in a row replacing Stephen Strasburg in the rotation since being recalled Tuesday from Triple-A Syracuse. He yielded three runs over 6 1-3 innings that night in a 7-2 home loss to the New York Mets.
The 22-year-old right-hander’s previous big league outing was a 11-strikeout performance as he gave up one run over 7 1-3 innings in a 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh on June 19. Six days prior to that, he beat Milwaukee and held Aramis Ramirez hitless in four at-bats.
Ramirez went 0 for 4 on Saturday in his Pirates season debut after being acquired Thursday. He spent his first five-plus seasons with Pittsburgh.
”I never thought I’d be back here but, in baseball, you never know,” Ramirez said.