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Liriano sharp, Fister struggles, as Pirates drop Nats

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Liriano sharp, Fister struggles, as Pirates drop Nats

By WILL GRAVES

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Francisco Liriano allowed three hits over six-plus dominant innings and the Pittsburgh Pirates raced by the Washington Nationals 7-3 on Thursday night.

Liriano (6-6) struck out 11 against three walks as the Pirates returned from a miserable post All-Star break road trip to drop the NL East-leading Nationals. Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Francisco Cervelli homered for Pittsburgh, which ended a seven-game losing streak to Washington.

Starling Marte and Jung Ho Kang added two hits apiece for the Pirates, who acquired third baseman Aramis Ramirez from Milwaukee before the game to bolster an infield dealing with injuries to Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer.

Doug Fister (3-6) labored through five innings, giving up four runs and nine hits to drop his third straight decision. Ian Desmond had two of Washington's six hits, including a two-run homer in the ninth.

The Pirates came home for a brief four-game series against the Nationals following a bumpy start to the season's second half. Pittsburgh dropped five of six on the road and watched Mercer join Harrison on the disabled list with a sprained left knee. Neither player will return until late-August at the earliest, leading the Pirates to bring back the 37-year-old Ramirez a dozen years to the day they shipped him to the Chicago Cubs.

Pittsburgh hopes Ramirez can provide some punch to an offense that can be spotty at times. Pitching isn't an issue for the team with the second-best ERA in the majors, and Liriano had little trouble overwhelming the Nationals. He struck out nine of the first 13 batters he faced and didn't allow a ball out of the infield until Desmond's single to left with Clint Robinson on first and no outs in the fifth.

Robinson eventually scored following a pair of wild pitches by Liriano, who settled down to get out of the inning with a 2-1 lead intact.

Pittsburgh quickly added on to give Liriano plenty of room to work. Marte singled off Fister with one out in the bottom of the fifth and scored on a double by Kang, who then came home following a fielder's choice by Alvarez to make it 4-1. Liriano eventually left after giving up a leadoff double to Robinson in the seventh, but reliever Jared Hughes left Robinson stranded at third.

McCutchen's 13th homer of the season -- a two-run shot off Tanner Roark in the seventh -- pushed Pittsburgh's lead to five as Pittsburgh improved to 10-1 in their last 11 games at PNC Park.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Washington: 3B Yunel Escobar did not start, but was available to play a day after collapsing to the ground in pain while trying to check his swing against the Mets. X-rays and a CT scan on Escobar's left wrist were negative.

Pittsburgh: Mercer walked into the clubhouse with barely a limp on Thursday and is optimistic he will be back sooner rather than later after heading to the 15-day disabled list on Monday with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Mercer injured the knee following a hard slide into second by Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Max Scherzer faces the Pirates for the first time since tossing the first no-hitter of his career against Pittsburgh last month. Scherzer struck out 10 and came within a strike of a perfect game a 6-0 win on June 20, his only misstep coming when he hit Pittsburgh pinch-hitter Jose Tabata in the elbow with two outs in the ninth. Scherzer is 10-8 overall but just 1-3 in July thanks in large part to a lack of support. The Nationals have managed one run in the three losses.

Pirates: Jeff Locke (5-6, 4.01 ERA) has a 2.53 ERA in two starts against Washington, both non-decisions.

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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals made the first major trade of the season this evening. 

Midway through their Monday night game against the Yankees, the team announced that they had completed a trade for Royals' relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera:

Herrera's a major acquisition for the Nationals, as the pitcher is in the middle of a career year. He's currently pitched 25 innings so far, posting a 1.05 FIP, 2.62 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. His 2.1 percent walk rate this season is a career low. 

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