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Nationals vs. Pirates Preview: Turner, bullpen once again focal points

Nationals vs. Pirates Preview: Turner, bullpen once again focal points

PITTSBURGH — The Washington Nationals have a ton of bullpen issues. Even so, they will look for that unit to do even more than usual on Wednesday, as right-hander Jacob Turner will be called from the bullpen to make a spot start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Nationals played a doubleheader on Sunday, which necessitated an extra arm in manager Dusty Baker's rotation. Turner was stretched out earlier in the year, so he was the logical choice.

Turner has a 2-1 record and a 3.31 ERA in seven appearances this season, but just one of those was a start, and that came back on April 24. Since then, he has pitched more than two innings just once and not at all since May 3.

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In his career, Turner has been a starter more often than a reliever, with 54 of his 86 career appearances coming in a starting role. His only career action against the Pirates came as a starter in 2014, when Turner was with the Chicago Cubs. He lost that game, giving up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings in what is now essentially ancient history.

However, the Nationals' bullpen struggles are very much up to the minute. The team's relievers have the second-worst ERA in the National League, and several pitchers who were expected to have prominent roles have struggled out of the chute.

Joe Blanton (9.49 ERA), Blake Treinen (8.10 ERA) and Shawn Kelley (7.15 ERA) all have inflated numbers. Treinen and Kelley -- along with Koda Glover and Enny Romero -- were part of the group of relievers expected to compete for saves. Instead of one player stepping up, Baker has been left to mix and match while the quartet muddles through.

Glover earned the nod in the ninth inning on Tuesday, but it took him 29 pitches to get through the scoreless frame to complete an 8-4 win over the Pirates, bringing into question his availability for Wednesday.

"We've got to get his pitch count down so he can go the next day and the next day," Baker said.

With the bullpen already missing Turner and the spot starter unlikely to turn in a long outing, the game very well could come down to the back of the Nationals' bullpen again.

"On the real good teams that I've had, when you get to the sixth or seventh inning, we know it and they know that the game is over," Baker said. "And so we just got to go back to the drawing board to try to figure it out. We've used different guys in different places and different guys late in the game."

The Pirates will counter with their starting pitcher who has most reliably gone deep into games, Gerrit Cole. The right-hander has recorded seven consecutive quality starts and has a 3.06 ERA on the season. However, his record is just 1-4 thanks to some lacking run support.

That has been a common theme in Pittsburgh. The Pirates are hitting just .224 on the season, second worst in the National League.

"Guys are going up there fighting," manager Clint Hurdle said after his team went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position on Tuesday. "We just keep playing the game."

Cole is 2-1 with a 2.92 ERA in four career starts against Washington.

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Even after two-plus years, Hunter Strickland couldn't forget last meeting with Bryce Harper

Even after two-plus years, Hunter Strickland couldn't forget last meeting with Bryce Harper

965 days. That's the amount of time that separated the second time Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland faced each other on an MLB diamond and the third one.

In that second matchup, which came back in Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS, Harper launched a game-tying home run in the seventh inning off of Strickland. Harper also hit a blast off Strickland in Game 1 of the same series.

Well, apparently, the Giants reliever still hasn't gotten over his last time he saw the Nationals star, because on Monday, the right-hander plunked the MVP candidate with a fastball the first chance he had since their postseason encounters almost three years ago.

Ironically enough, after San Francisco beat Washington in the NLDS, Strickland told the SF Chronicle how he would have to "have a short memory" on the mound for the rest of the playoffs and keep his composure after the home runs. Judging by this video, however, it's clear that Strickland's had some issues moving on:

RELATED: MORE ON THE HARPER VS. STRICKLAND BRAWL

When you look back at that Game 4 meeting, you'll see Harper pause at home plate and watch his moonshot after sending it into the McCovey Cove, then glare at Strickland a few times as he rounds the bases. Some will call what No. 34 did a violation of baseball's unwritten rules, but it was a huge moment on a huge stage, which contributed to Harper's emotional reaction.

The fact of the matter is that plenty of pitchers have moved on from much more egregious things in much shorter time frames, but for whatever reason, Strickland just wasn't able to.

Afterward, Harper explained why he thinks the hit by pitch should've never happened.

But Ryan Zimmerman had the best quote of all when talking about the sequence:

The veteran is right on with that statement. Harper was better than Strickland back in 2014, so Strickland felt the need to tag Harper first before Harper had a chance to tag him again on Monday. Essentially, the pitcher followed the, "If you can't beat him, bean him" strategy.

965 days is a long time to get over a grudge. For Hunter Strickland, though, 965 days still wasn't enough.

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Bryce Harper charges mound, throws punches after Hunter Strickland hits him with pitch

Bryce Harper charges mound, throws punches after Hunter Strickland hits him with pitch

In their two previous meetings, Bryce Harper took Hunter Strickland deep. Very deep, in fact.

So in their third encounter, Strickland made sure that Harper wouldn't have the chance to do it again. 

RELATED: HERE'S THE HISTORY BETWEEN BRYCE HARPER AND HUNTER STRICKLAND

In the top of the eighth inning of Monday's Nationals-Giants game, the San Francisco reliever went after Washington's best player on the first pitch and hit him in the thigh with a 98 MPH fastball.

Harper — without hesitation — responded by charging the mound and throwing his helmet at Strickland, and the two then squared off and exchanged punches.

Here is the wild video of the whole sequence:

Harper and Strickland were, of course, ejected after initiating one of the best MLB fights in recent memory. This was the pair's first time facing each other since Harper's two home runs in the 2014 NLDS, meaning Strickland's had a long time to get over No. 34's blasts but simply couldn't do it.

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