Nationals-Pirates Preview

Pittsburgh’s two offseason additions to its rotation have hardly

been perfect, but they’ve given the Pirates something they’ve been

sorely lacking for years – an ability to miss bats.

A night after A.J. Burnett struck out 10 in Pittsburgh’s

walk-off win, Erik Bedard takes the mound against the visiting

Washington Nationals on Wednesday looking for a third straight

victory after fanning 20 in his last two.

There are many reasons the Pirates (13-16) haven’t had a winning

season since 1992, but the lack of a front-end starter is arguably

among the biggest.

While they weren’t expecting Burnett or Bedard to be true aces,

the veterans have given Pittsburgh something its rotation hasn’t

seen in a while. Both Burnett (10.3) and Bedard (9.8) are in the

majors’ top 10 in strikeouts per nine innings among pitchers with

at least four starts, major outliers for a team that has baseball’s

fewest strikeouts since 2007.

On Tuesday, Burnett bounced back from becoming the first Pirates

pitcher since 1932 to allow 12 runs in a game, though Joel Hanrahan

couldn’t save the right-hander’s second victory. But after Adam

LaRoche gave the Nationals a 4-3 lead with a two-run homer, Rod

Barajas responded with a two-run shot of his own in the bottom of

the ninth to give Pittsburgh a 5-4 win.

“Pretty exciting, wasn’t it? … I thought what the heck? He’s

hit a few homers before,” manager Clint Hurdle said of the

decision to let Barajas – who was hitting .127 without an RBI this

season – bat.

Like Burnett, Bedard (2-4, 2.65 ERA) has had his early hiccups,

though his 0-4 start was due as much to a lack of run support as

his elevated pitch counts.

He’s thrown a combined 200 pitches over just 10 innings in his

last two starts, but a bevy of strikeouts contributed to that. He

fanned nine in a 4-2 win at Atlanta on April 28, then struck out 11

over five innings in a 6-3 victory over hot-hitting St. Louis on

Thursday – including seven straight at one point.

“I was throwing pitches and they were swinging through it,”

Bedard said. “I guess I was in a good groove. I don’t remember

getting seven.”

Bedard has an impressive if brief history of making the

Nationals (18-11) swing and miss. He’s struck out 30 in 19 innings

over three starts but is 0-1 despite a 1.42 ERA.

Washington counters with Ross Detwiler (3-1, 1.59), who hasn’t

been missing many bats but has been successful nonetheless. The

left-hander struck out two but turned in his third straight quality

start Thursday, holding Arizona to one run and three hits over a

season-high 6 1-3 innings in a 2-1 win.

Opponents are hitting .190 off Detwiler overall, with lefties

batting .083 (2 for 24) with nine strikeouts.

“I was really impressed with Det,” manager Davey Johnson said.

“He was my star of the game.”

Detwiler has faced the Pirates just once – his first major

league start May 18, 2009. He gave up three runs and four hits over

five innings.

Pedro Alvarez and Pittsburgh’s other lefties shouldn’t be the

only ones concerned about facing Detwiler, however. Left-handers

have the exact same numbers – 2 for 24 with nine strikeouts –

against Bedard.

Facing lefties hasn’t exactly bothered Bryce Harper thus far,

though. The Nationals phenom is 5 for 11 over his first nine games

in the majors after hitting just .190 against southpaws this season

in the minors.