In a matchup of former No. 1 overall picks, Cole faces Strasburg as the Pittsburgh Pirates continue a four-game home set against the slumping Washington Nationals on Saturday night.Drafted in 2011 out of UCLA, Cole (4-3, 3.84 ERA) has been good -- but not great -- in his first full season in the majors. The 23-year-old right-hander has already served up seven homers in 58 2/3 innings, matching last year's total when he threw 117 1/3 innings.Cole, who owns a 4.74 ERA in four starts this month, allowed three runs, seven hits and two walks over six innings in a 5-3 win in the second game of Sunday's doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.Cole yielded one run and two hits over seven innings in a 5-1 win at Washington on July 23 in his only appearance in the series. He is 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA in his last six home starts dating to last season.While Cole has thrived at home, Strasburg (3-3, 3.38) has struggled on the road, going 0-2 with a 5.09 ERA over four outings."I hope it all plays out because I got a ton of professional respect for (Strasburg)," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told MLB.com's official website. "He's already had to meet some challenges. ... (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 has gone 1-1 with a 2.30 ERA in four starts this month while receiving a combined seven runs of support. He surrendered six hits over seven innings of two-run ball in Monday's 4-3, 15-inning loss to Cincinnati.Strasburg has struck out 47 in four starts spanning 28 innings against the Pirates, going 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA. Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen are a combined 3 for 24 against Strasburg, though Alvarez and Marte have both homered.Strasburg will look to play the role of stopper as the Nationals (24-24) try to avoid dropping below .500 for the first time this year. Washington has scored five runs while hitting .204 during a season worst-tying three-game skid after falling 4-3 on Friday."We had opportunities," said manager Matt Williams, whose team went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. "We had the right matchups, right against left, left against right and they just scored one more run than we did."The Nationals are 20-1 when scoring at least four runs compared to 4-23 when they don't.Alvarez, meanwhile, snapped a season-high 14-game homerless drought in leading Pittsburgh to a third consecutive victory. The slugging third baseman was dropped from fourth to sixth in the lineup while Ike Davis went 2 for 4 as the cleanup hitter."Ike's hit fourth before, he's had a very solid month from the start to this time, it might open some things up for Pedro," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It looks good. Tonight it was nice to get that lineup out on the field."Davis has hit safely in nine straight home games, going 17 for 34. He is 4 for 13 with two homers against Strasburg.Charlie Morton notched his first win in 15 starts Friday, and Jason Grilli earned the save after coming off the disabled list earlier in the day."I just tried to stick to my strengths," said Grilli, who missed over a month with an oblique injury. "But yeah this feels good. The adrenaline was definitely there."The Pirates have taken five of six from Washington dating to last year.
Stephen Strasburg is throwing 30.7 percent of his fastballs in the middle third of the plate (sixth-most in MLB), and hitters have a .321 slugging percentage against the pitch in that location, which is 167 points below the league average. However, the Pirates have a team slugging percentage of .527 against fastballs in that location, which is 40 points above league average.