Pirates-Nationals Preview


Francisco Liriano produced a string of dominant outings before the All-Star break but couldn't add to that in his first game back.

A chance to face a scuffling Washington Nationals lineup could help him get back on track Wednesday night.

Liriano (9-4, 2.44 ERA) was 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA in his final four starts before the break but gave up five runs in a season-low 4 1-3 innings in his return Friday, a 5-3 loss in Cincinnati.

"One of those days I didn't get any rhythm," Liriano said. "I tried to make good pitches and it didn't work out. Everything was up."

That loss kept Liriano from reaching double-digit wins for the third time in his eight major league seasons and for the first time since he had a career-high 14 for Minnesota in 2010. The left-hander would appear to have a prime opportunity to earn his 10th win Wednesday against the Nationals, who are batting .212 and have scored 11 runs during a season-high five-game skid.

"Really, the thing about us right now is we're a little snake bit," outfielder Jayson Werth said. "Things aren't going our way and we're not winning games. We need to find a way to win a game."

Washington (48-52) had three hits in a 5-1 loss Tuesday and is 6 for 78 (.077) with runners in scoring position during a 2-10 stretch. The Nationals fired hitting coach Rick Eckstein on Monday and his replacement, Rick Schu, arrived in Washington on Tuesday.

"I would like to see us put the ball in play a little bit more," Schu told the team's official website. "I think it's just committing to the team's concept - moving runners, putting the ball in play with two strikes, grinding at-bats. That's what this team is capable of doing. We just have to get back to it."

The Pirates' Russell Martin had three hits by himself Tuesday, and Pedro Alvarez hit his 25th homer in his club's third consecutive win. Pittsburgh (59-39) dropped nine of its first 14 this month after winning nine in a row to finish June.

Stephen Strasburg (5-7, 2.97) will try to end the Pirates' run while building on a solid performance in his return from the break. The right-hander gave up two runs over seven innings to the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday, but he didn't receive a decision in a 3-2 loss.

In his final start of the first half July 12, Strasburg matched a career high by giving up seven runs in two innings in an 8-3 loss at NL-worst Miami.

Washington has scored three runs or fewer in seven of his last eight starts and 15 of his 19 this season.

"Stras pitched one heck of a ballgame," manager Davey Johnson told the team's official website. "(He) pitched good enough for us to win."

While Liriano will face Washington for the first time, Strasburg will try to improve to 3-0 in four starts against the Pirates. He did not get a decision in his only matchup this season, a 5-4 win May 4, after allowing Starling Marte and Clint Barmes to hit two-run homers in his seven innings.

Strasburg is 3-0 with a 2.14 ERA in his last six home starts.

Left fielder Bryce Harper (knee) and shortstop Ian Desmond (hand blister) are out of the Nationals' lineup for this game.