Nats Lose 5-4; Swept by Marlins

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, May 12, 2008 | , , , , | 0 comments »

Washington, DC--On a drizzly Mother's Day Sunday afternoon, it appeared the Washington Nationals had found the recipe to defeat the visiting Florida Marlins. Shawn Hill's seven strong innings pitched and home runs by little-used Aaron Boone and Ronnie Belliard gave the Nats a 4-2 lead entering the eighth inning. But overworked reliever Luis Ayala was unable to hold the Marlins at bay in the frame, as he allowed three earned runs on three hits--including two home runs--to allow the Marlins to complete the sweep and send the Nationals out on the road wondering what they have to do to actually win against the team from south Florida.

The decisive eighth inning was ugly indeed for Ayala (1-3, second blown save), making his league leading 23rd appearance of the season. Slap-hitting Alfredo Amezaga reached on an infield single to start the inning. It was a hard one-hopper to first that Boone was able to knock down, but Ayala couldn't get to the bag quick enough to get the speedy Amezaga. On the next pitch, Jeremy Hermida jumped all over Ayala's fastball and sent it screaming into the right field bleachers to tie the game. Ayala was able to coax Hanley Ramirez and Jorge Cantu into making outs, but couldn't fool Marlins' red-hot second baseman Dan Uggla, who ripped a 2-2 pitch into dead-away center field stands, just barely avoiding becoming the first batter in Nationals Park history to reach the batter's eye. It was Uggla's second homer of the game and third of the series.

The Nationals were able to get their lead-off hitters on base in the bottom of the eighth and ninth innings, but to no avail. Belliard, one-for-three on the day with a homer and two RBIs, walked to start the eighth against Marlins reliever Renyel Pinto (hold--7), but Ryan Zimmerman promptly grounded into a double play to quash the burgeoning rally. In the ninth, Lastings Milledge led off with a walk, but Willie Harris popped out to right, Elijah Dukes popped out to second and catcher Jesus Flores bounced out to Marlins closer Kevin Gregg (save--7) to end the Mother's Day festivities.

Florida reliever Logan Kensing pitched the seventh inning, surrendering just one hit, and earned his second win of the season with no losses. Marlins starter Scott Olson settled down after a rough start to keep the Marlins in the game, and allowed four earned runs on six hits and two walks in six innings pitched.

Nationals' starter Shawn Hill deserved a better fate. He looked really strong all game, and allowed two earned runs on just five hits and no walks in seven innings. He gave up one run in the second as he hit Uggla, allowed a single to Luis Gonzales that moved Uggla to third, and a sacrifice fly to first baseman Wes Helms. Hill also surrendered Uggla's first home of the day, a solo shot in the sixth. Hill still has no decisions in five starts this season, with a 3.56 ERA, with 18 strikeouts in 30.1 innings pitched.

Aaron Boone, starting for Nick Johnson against the lefty, went three-for-four on the day, coming within a double of hitting for the cycle. He homered in the second, tripled in a run in the third and singled in the sixth. His last at bat ended with a fly out to right field.

Washington begins a four-game series with the division rival New York Mets Monday, with Odalis Perez (0-3, 3.43) facing Nelson Figueroa (2-2, 4.81) at 7:10 pm in Shea Stadium.

NATS NOTES: The loss drops the Nationals' record for the season to 15-23, 8.5 games behind division-leading Florida. Washington is 9-16 against division rivals and 1-8 against Florida this season.

Washington will be on the road for the next week, playing four in New York and a three-game weekend series in Baltimore, the traditional "geographic rival" portion of interleague play.

Reliever Chris Schroder was recalled from Triple-A Columbus, replacing left-handed starter Mike O'Connor, who was optioned back to Columbus following the game. O'Connor was 1-1 while with the big club, but was hammered in his only start Saturday evening.

The team has not announced a starter for Thursday's game in New York, which would have been O'Connor's turn to start.

Nats Lose 5-4; Swept by Marlins also posted at DC Sports Box

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008