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MLB: Nationals, Pirates going with youth in weekend series

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The Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals, meeting this weekend at PNC Park, are in similar spots in that they are evaluating for the future, particularly their young players.

Players such as Pittsburgh third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, who is in his first full season and hit a walk-off single Friday as the Pirates (51-90) won the series opener 4-3.

“I’m learning a lot. Going through a lot of ups and downs,” Hayes told AT&T Sportsnet. “Just trying to learn the best way I can, simplify the game the best I can and have fun.”

Pirates general manager Ben Cherington offered an honest outlook for his club.

“I believe we can improve at the major league level next year. We need to be focused on what we can do to go ahead,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “That may involve individual player decisions. That’s always part of it.

“So much of it is going to be continued improvement from the players already here, or finding the best way to use players who are already here. … I think we feel urgency, literally every minute, to get better.”

The Nationals (58-83) are leaning on a fair number of inexperienced players.

“Our young guys are learning,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said. “You’re seeing some bright signs of what they can do and what the future holds for us. I love the way the guys are playing. I hear it all the time from different coaches on other teams, players on other teams, how they respect the way we play the game.”

Martinez is expected to return to the dugout Saturday after serving a one-game suspension in the series opener. Martinez received the discipline, which included an undisclosed fine, because of an incident Wednesday at Atlanta when starter Sean Nolan hit the Braves’ Freddie Freeman.

Nolan received a five-game suspension and undisclosed fine. He is appealing.

One not-as-young player who has been solid for the Nationals is first baseman Josh Bell, 29, who homered and drew two walks against his former team Friday in his first game back in Pittsburgh.

“It’s definitely different being on this side of the stadium. First time walking through this (visitors) tunnel. First time being in that clubhouse back there,” Bell said. “Still the same stadium. Still an incredible view. And definitely happy to be back.”

Bell has hits in 16 of his past 18 games, with four doubles, six homers, 15 RBIs, 13 walks and eight runs scored.

On Saturday, Washington right-hander Josiah Gray (0-2, 5.65 ERA) is slated to start against Pittsburgh right-hander Wil Crowe (3-7, 5.94 ERA).

Crowe, a former Washington draft pick who will be facing the Nationals for the first time, has lost his last two decisions. His last start was a no-decision Sunday against the Chicago Cubs, when he gave up seven runs in three innings.

On a better note, Crowe ranks fourth in the National League among rookies with 89 strikeouts.

Gray, a rookie who will be making his ninth appearance (eighth start), has not faced Pittsburgh. He has 48 strikeouts against 17 walks in 43 innings.

Like Crowe, Gray is coming off a short, rough outing. Gray allowed six runs and seven hits in three innings Sunday against the New York Mets.

–Field Level Media

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