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PIT@NYY: Cole earns quality start, strikes out eight

Two powerful right arms, two No. 1 overall picks, two phenoms from Southern Californa -- and they have to share one mound.

Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole will square off Saturday night in arguably the most intriguing pitching matchup PNC Park has seen this season. It will be the first time Strasburg (the top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft) and Cole (2011's first selection) will face one another professionally.

"I hope it all plays out because I got a ton of professional respect for [Strasburg]," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's already had to meet some challenges. He gave a quick burst of energy to the league, to the game. …[Cole] was in a similar situation last year. To see them go toe-to-toe, yeah, those kinds of games make you go, 'I hope this is a good one.'"

Strasburg, whose 74 strikeouts this season rank him behind only Johnny Cueto for most in the National League, has been historically good against the Pirates.

Pittsburgh was the opponent when Strasburg first stepped on a Major League mound four years ago, and he awed the baseball world with 14 strikeouts in seven innings.

The 25-year-old from San Diego has built on that initial success against the Pirates, as he is 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA and a 0.714 WHIP against the black and gold in four career starts. And Strasburg has not stopped punching out Pirates at the plate, either. In 28 innings against them, he has registered 47 strikeouts -- good for a 15.1 K/9 ratio, the best Strasburg has against any team he's faced more than once.

Cole, 23, started generating comparisons to Strasburg when he was still pitching for UCLA. And though he didn't garner the same attention as his Saturday counterpart did when he debuted last June, he did piece together a rookie campaign that was part of the Pirates' first playoff appearance in 21 years.

Even with the prestige of the pitching matchup and the hype surrounding it, Cole maintained that he's treating the start like any other and hoping he can help his team secure a fourth straight win.

"I'm looking forward to pitching on Saturday. A guy like that, you got to be on your game," Cole said of Strasburg. "But other than that, [pitching] is the only thing I'm thinking about."

Nationals: May struggles continue
The Nationals fell to .500 (24-24) for the first time in 2014 as they lost their third straight contest Friday night.

It was the latest in what's been a tough May for Washington. The team is 8-12 since the calendar flipped from April, and with three lineup regulars -- Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche -- out with injuries, the team's offense has been sputtering.

The Nationals have averaged just over one run per game during their three-game skid, and the team is averaging 3.15 runs per game in May. LaRoche, who is hitting .319 on the season with five homers and 21 RBIs, is expected back from the disabled list by early next week, and could possibly provide a needed spark to the order.

Pirates: Alvarez, Davis produce in new spots
A switch in the batting order resulted in favorable nights for both Pedro Alvarez and Ike Davis on Friday.

Alvarez was the Pirates' cleanup hitter for the majority of the season, but Hurdle bumped the third baseman, who was hitting .212 entering Friday, down two spots in the order in the second game of a four-game series against Washington.

After failing to capitalize with runners in scoring position in his first at-bat, Alvarez responded by punishing a 1-0 pitch to center field for his ninth home run of the season in the fourth inning. The homer was his only hit of the night, but Alvarez bumped his season RBI total to 27, a team best.

Scoring on Alvarez's blast was Davis, who Hurdle penciled in fourth in the order. Davis was 2-for-4 with a pair of singles, which continued a hot streak at the plate for the first baseman. Since May 6, Davis is hitting .404 (19-for-47).

Worth noting
• Pirates catcher Russell Martin doubled in his first at-bat since April 25 on Friday. Martin was 1-for-3 and scored a run in his return to the lineup after missing nearly a month with a strained left hamstring.

• The Pirates' 4-3 victory on Friday was the 800th win of Clint Hurdle's managerial career. Comments