Washington (10-21) and Pittsburgh have split the first two games of this three-game set. The Nationals own the second-worst home record in baseball at 2-10 and the Pirates are an NL-worst 3-16 on the road.
Pittsburgh (9-23) snapped a three-game slide by winning 5-4 in 11 innings on Saturday. Jason Bay’s two-out solo homer in the 11th was the difference for the Pirates, who also had five relievers combine for five scoreless innings.
Bay went 2-for-4 after going 2-for-17 over his previous five games.
“It was big,” said Bay, “not just for me, but the team.”
The Pirates will hand the ball to Zach Duke (2-2, 3.46 ERA), who enters off the best game of his young career. Duke pitched a five-hitter for his first career complete game in an 8-0 victory at the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday.
“He threw a ton of strikes and had command of all his pitches,” Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy said. “He used his changeup very effectively—worked both sides of the plate with his fastball very effectively.”
The 23-year-old left-hander is 5-1 with a 2.02 ERA in 11 career starts on the road. This will be his first outing against Washington.
Alfonso Soriano hit a two-run homer in Saturday’s loss for Washington. Soriano has batted in the No. 3 spot over the last six games after beginning the season in the leadoff spot, and is just 5-for-25 in that span.
Manager Frank Robinson said he will use either Ryan Church or Marlon Byrd in the leadoff spot for the time being. The right-handed hitting Byrd will get most of the starts against left-handers and is expected to be in the lineup Sunday.
“I like him (Soriano) in the third spot right now, and Byrd is going to be in a lot of games and he’s going to lead off when he is,” Robinson said.
Washington has scored a major league-low 39 runs at home, where the Nationals are batting .222.
Robinson has claimed that one reason for the team’s slow start is that it lacks a leader. It’s a sentiment several of the Nationals share.
“I don’t know who that would be on the team,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “You go to some clubhouses and there are one or two big guys. We don’t have that. Frank would like us to take care of that.”
O’Connor earned his first major-league win on Tuesday by allowing one run and two hits over seven innings in a 6-2 victory over the New York Mets.
The Nationals had planned to send O’Connor back to Triple-A once Patterson got healthy, but his first two outings have Robinson leaning toward leaving him in the rotation.
“He has pitched two excellent ballgames, so why would we send him back?” Robinson said. “I like what I see. I like the way he conducts himself and handles himself on the mound.”