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Pirates, Kuhl can’t handle Nationals in 8-4 loss

MLB: Washington Nationals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals made quick work of the Pirates’ two-game winning streak, taking command early against Chad Kuhl and winning, 8-4, against an obviously outclassed Pirates team.

Kuhl didn’t lack for velocity, getting up into the 96-98 mph range, but velocity wasn’t enough. Faced with a blistering hot Nationals lineup, Kuhl was simply overmatched, giving up one hard-hit ball after another. He allowed ten hits, half of them for extra bases, including Wilmer Difo’s second HR in 71 major league games. The Nationals got a run in the first, with Kuhl escaping the inning on a double play turned very nicely by Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer. After a scoreless second, Kuhl gave up two runs each in the third and fourth. He finally came out after allowing a walk and infield hit to start the fifth.

Daniel Hudson, apparently demoted to white flag status, followed Kuhl. In case you’re counting, this gives the Pirates three white flag pitchers, with Josh Lindblom and Johnny Barbato; who exactly will protect leads, if they ever get any, is a mystery. Hudson let one of Kuhl’s runners score, leaving the starter responsible for six in all, before getting out of the inning with another double play. White Flag Barbato followed White Flag Hudson and pitched well, allowing just a hit and fanning three in his two innings.

Meanwhile, Stephen Strasburg faced trouble only in the first. The Pirates hit him hard in that inning, as Josh Harrison hit his sixth HR off an offspeed pitch and John Jaso later doubled, but Andrew McCutchen and David Freese both lined out. There were a couple other hard hit balls later, but Strasburg allowed no more hits until Harrison led off the sixth with a double, avoiding the tag at second on a stutter-step non-slide that was vintage J-Hay. He was, of course, stranded at second. Strasburg’s performance didn’t produce the endless succession of whiffs you might expect from an overpowering pitcher facing the Pirates. He fanned only three, including Jaso twice, in six innings, but the zeroes went on the scoreboard just the same.

With his pitch count up to 108, Strasburg apparently ran out of gas in the seventh and turned the game over to the Nationals’ bullpen, which has its own problems. Josh Bell led off with a double and Francisco Cervelli walked, leading both to Strasburg’s exit and to the Pirates’ obligatory, late-inning fake rally. Jordy Mercer singled off reliever Matt Albers to load the bases. With Jose Osuna up, a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman let in two runs. LOOGY Oliver Perez came in to face Adam Frazier, who foiled that strategy by looping an RBI single to center. That brought in another reliever, the struggling Blake Treinen, to face Harrison, who naturally went after the first pitch and grounded into a double play. McCutchen then fanned to end the threat. He went 0-4 and is now batting .145 (8-for-55) in May.

With the game now a two-run affair, the Pirates went with Wade LeBlanc instead of White Flag Lindblom. For the second straight game, LeBlanc walked the first batter he faced, but retired the next three. The Pirates, however, went down in order against Enny Romero and his career 5.20 ERA in the eighth. Bryce Harper then removed whatever limited doubt there may have been about the outcome by launching a two-run HR off LeBlanc in the top of the ninth. The Pirates fake rallied against Koda Glover in the bottom half, getting a single and double from Osuna and Frazier with two outs, but Harrison fanned to end the game.