Pirates 11, Nationals 4
To Ryan Drese, there were just a few little ground balls through the infield, then a couple of hanging breaking pitches, the only truly regrettable tosses he made all night. To Frank Robinson, there were too many pitches up in the strike zone, and then, the unforgivable -- two straight balls to the opposing pitcher, who was trying to sacrifice bunt.
"How about that one," Robinson said. "He's trying to give you an out."
Those two pitches to Pittsburgh Pirates starter Oliver Perez ended Drese's night, and, in a way, welcomed him to the Washington Nationals. Drese was mainly responsible for the Nationals' 11-4 loss to the Pirates on Tuesday night at PNC Park, twice giving away leads in a three-inning, five-run performance that was over when Robinson came out with nobody out in the fourth, a runner on second, a 2-1 count and the Nationals trailing by two.
"I was," Drese said. "But it's his decision, and it's part of the game."
It is part of Robinson's game lately, yanking pitchers in the middle of at-bats if he feels they won't get it done, particularly if they're throwing balls when Robinson believes the situation demands pounding the strike zone. He did it to both Zach Day and Tomo Ohka, the two Washington starters who grew most frustrated with their manager. Day is now on the disabled list, and Ohka has been traded to Milwaukee.
Tuesday night, Drese got his first dose of Robinson. Picked up less than two weeks ago after he was let go by Texas, Drese, in effect, facilitated the Ohka deal, because if he hadn't been available, the Nationals couldn't have afforded to trade a capable starting pitcher.
The move looked brilliant in Drese's first start, when he baffled Anaheim for eight scoreless innings, allowing only two hits and inducing exactly what his sinker is supposed to induce -- grounder after grounder.
That's what Drese (1-1) set out to do Tuesday against the Pirates, particularly after Brad Wilkerson led off the game with a home run for the Nationals. The shot off Perez was something of a breakthrough for Wilkerson, who has been hampered by nerve irritation in his right arm, preventing him from lifting the ball. He hit 32 homers a year ago, but the drive to center was only his fourth this season -- and first since April 26.
So the Nationals had a lead, one Drese gave right back. The first three Pirates singled off Drese, grounders that made their way through the infield.
"You can't really control it," Drese said. "I mean, I was making pitches and getting ground balls."
Robinson conceded as much.
"He did get three ground balls," Robinson said. "He just didn't get them at anybody. That might have been a difference."
The difference for the Nationals was that the Pirates seized the lead back, 2-1. In the third, Jose Guillen ripped a two-run double, a shot that was just a few feet from being his third homer in two nights, and the Nationals went back up, 3-2. Drese's response? Hanging curveballs to the Pirates' first two hitters in the bottom of the inning, pitches that Bobby Hill and Jason Bay smacked for doubles. By the end of that frame, Pittsburgh had the lead back, 4-3.
"We kept answering back and they kept answering back," Wilkerson said. "It's just tough to answer back so many times."
And the Nationals couldn't, squandering too many opportunities, even as Drese's first two replacements -- Hector Carrasco and Travis Hughes -- kept Pittsburgh at bay. For Washington, only frustration. First and third with nobody out in the fourth yielded no runs. First and second with no one out in the sixth yielded no runs. Bases loaded with one out in the seventh yielded just one.
So the Pirates -- behind a 3-for-5, five-RBI performance by Matt Lawton -- blew it open late. So on Wednesday, the Nationals head into what amounts to the rubber game of their nine-game road trip, on which they are 4-4. They still hold the lead in the National League East by three games over Philadelphia, but their newest addition was left to ponder his new manager's quick hook.
"He hasn't been here, but I've seen it on many occasions," Wilkerson said. "It's not the first time I've seen it, and it won't be the last."