Pirates-Nationals Preview

Jordan Zimmermann has been a big part of the Washington

Nationals’ success on the mound.

Pittsburgh Pirates counterpart James McDonald has made

significant contributions to his team as well.

Zimmermann takes the hill opposite McDonald as the Nationals try

for a two-game sweep of the visiting Pirates on Thursday night.

Washington (23-14) has posted a major league-best 2.89 ERA

thanks in large part to the early-season efforts of Zimmermann

(2-3, 2.14 ERA), Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. After failing

to generate much offense against Gonzalez during Wednesday’s 7-4

loss, the Pirates (17-20) could be in for another long night at the

plate versus Zimmermann.

The right-hander was superb again his last time out, yielding

one run, five hits and striking out a season-high nine over seven

innings of Saturday’s 2-1 victory at Cincinnati.

“That’s the best I’ve felt all year,” said Zimmerman, who will

make his first appearance versus the Pirates. “I had command of

everything. My slider was really tight.”

Zimmermann has allowed one earned run in five of his seven

outings this season. He is, however, receiving an average of just

2.14 runs of support – one of the lowest marks in the majors.

McDonald, meanwhile, seems to finally be coming into his own in

his fifth big league campaign. The right-hander, who’s gone 2-2

with a 2.42 ERA through his first seven starts, has fanned 33 in 29

innings over his last four.

After posting back-to-back wins, McDonald suffered his second

loss despite allowing just one run and four hits over a career

high-tying eight innings Friday in a 1-0 defeat to Houston.

“It’s fun to watch this young man take this step forward,”

manager Clint Hurdle said.

In his only career start against Washington, McDonald gave up

two runs in 6 1-3 frames but didn’t factor in the decision of a 5-3

road victory last July 2.

He’ll look to slow down a Nationals team which has won five of

seven games. The suddenly potent Nationals, who have scored at

least six runs four times over that stretch, are 8-1 when scoring

at least that many.

Former Pirate Adam LaRoche shined brightest for the Nationals on

Wednesday, belting his team-leading seventh homer before coming

through with a three-run double for his 1,000th career hit.

“Always, in my opinion, Mr. Clutch,” Gonzalez said.

Batting .423 in his last seven games and .339 on the year,

LaRoche is feeling no ill effects from the torn left labrum that

cut his 2011 campaign short.

“I wanted to prove to myself that I could come back from this

surgery and do what I know I’m capable of doing,” he said. “To come

out and do it is nice reassurance.”

LaRoche, who spent two-plus seasons with Pittsburgh from

2007-09, has gone 7 for 12 with three long balls and eight RBIs in

four meetings versus his former team this season. The slugging

first baseman is hitting .360 lifetime against the Pirates – by far

his highest career mark against any NL opponent.

Josh Harrison provided most of Pittsburgh’s offense Wednesday,

hitting his first homer of the season and driving in a career

high-tying three runs. The Pirates, though, have gone 12 straight

games without scoring more than five runs.

“Some days you’re going to feel good. Some days, you’re not,”

Harrison said. “It’s a matter of fighting through it.”