Cole roughed up in return, Pirates lose 6-0 to Nationals

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Saturday, July 16, 2016, in Washington. (AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Gerrit Cole returned from the disabled list Saturday night after breezing through a pair of minor league rehab starts.

The Washington Nationals provided a tougher test.

Cole lasted just four innings in his return for Pittsburgh, Tanner Roark pitched eight-plus innings of five-hit ball and the Nationals beat the Pirates 6-0.

Recovering from a right triceps strain, Cole (5-5) pitched eight scoreless innings in his Triple-A appearances, rarely working with men on base. Against Washington, he allowed seven hits and walked two.

“I just didn’t execute enough pitches. If I made one quality pitch I followed it up with a subpar (one),” he said. “The ball was elevated, especially out of the stretch. I got crushed.”

The 2015 All-Star allowed five runs — four earned — with five strikeouts.

“You can go pitch in the minor leagues forever and that’s not always going to help,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He needs to get back here and help us and get involved in the fight with us. I saw some good things.”

Cole’s first major league appearance since June 10 was delayed 71 minutes by rain. Washington wasted little time scoring with single runs in the first and second innings plus three in the fourth — aided by second baseman Josh Harrison’s throwing error — for a 5-0 lead.

The Pirates have lost three in a row after a 9-1 stretch.

Roark (9-5) allowed five singles with one walk and five strikeouts in his longest start of the season. He started the ninth but left after allowing a single and hitting a batter.

On Friday night, Stephen Strasburg held the Pirates to a run on three hits over eight innings.

“The name of the game is to get in the bullpen as early as you can,” Harrison said. “Unfortunately we haven’t been able to early in the first two games.”

Anthony Rendon homered and drove in two runs for Washington. Second baseman Stephen Drew had three doubles and one RBI in place of NL batting leader Daniel Murphy. The Nationals have won five straight games.

Roark rarely faced trouble in recording his third win in four starts.

Andrew McCutchen’s second hit loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth, but reliever Blake Treinen finished the shutout.

Pittsburgh had three total runners reach in the second inning, but Roark deftly avoided damage with two groundouts including a double play on a ball hit by Sean Rodriguez.

“We had some balls to hit, we didn’t hit them,” Hurdle said.

Rendon’s RBI single put Washington up 1-0. Back-to-back doubles by Drew and Danny Espinosa in the second added another run off Cole, a 19-game winner last season. Cole entered Saturday 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA in three career starts against the Nationals.

Harrison fielded Roark’s bases loaded grounder with one out in the fourth. Spinning around for the throw to first base, Harrison’s toss sailed and landed in Washington’s dugout as two runs scored.

“Do or die,” Harrison said. “If I make a good throw we get an out out of it. They still get a run.”


McCutchen has a hit in seven straight games against Washington, batting .360 (9 for 25) with one home run and four RBIs in that stretch.


Pirates: RF Gregory Polanco will either return to the lineup by Tuesday or be placed on the disabled list with left hamstring tightness, Hurdle said. Polanco, out since July 8, is not expected to play Sunday, but Hurdle stated, “we’re optimistic” with his progress.


Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-0, 6.08 ERA) allowed four runs in 2 1/3 innings for a no-decision July 10 against the Cubs.

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (10-6, 3.03) makes his first start since appearing in the All-Star game. He threw a no-hitter against Pittsburgh on June 20, 2015.