THE RESULT: As with so many game before this one with the Florida Marlins, the Washington Nationals found a way to lose. Last night, they couldn't find the knockout punch when they needed it, a veteran starter and reliever lost the umpire's strike zone, and a bullpen that was supposed to be a strength of the team has once again been proven a liability for now.
Add it all up, and the Nats fell to the Marlins 7-4 before another paltry crown at Sun Life Stadium. The loss sinks the Nats to 1-4 to start the season.
The Nationals used small-ball to craft a four-run lead, pushing across three in the second -- on a single, safety squeeze, two walks, a fielder's choice and a sacrifice fly -- and added another in the fourth. But they only got one more runner on base before the ninth inning, and that was erased by a double play.
As for Nats starter Livan Hernandez, he sailed through four innings, but got manhandled by the Marlins -- and home plate umpire Tim Tschida. Livo had two outs with a man on second, then walked two to load the bases, and the big Cuban was demonstrably upset with the strike zone. On a 3-2 count to catcher John Buck, Hernandez let one get too much of the plate, and Buck triples to the big part of the ballpark in right field and cleared the bases.
All told for Hernandez, he went five innings, allowing four earned runs on six hits and five walks. He struck out one and threw just 49 of his 97 pitches for strikes.
The next inning was more non-relief pitching. Chad Gaudin (L, 0-1, 13.50) gave up three hits and Ian Desmond (4-for-5, 2 RBIs) committed his first error of the season, leading to two more runs.
Then in the eighth, Todd Coffey gave up a double and two walks to load the bases and Gaby Sanchez hit a sac fly to plate another run. Coffey (11.57 ERA) had so much trouble with Tschida's strike zone he complained audibly at the end of the inning and was ejected.
So it goes for these Nats, losers now of seven in a row and an inexplicable 41 of their last 55 games to the Marlins. Thursday it gets no easier with Josh Johnson taking the hill for the Marlins. After that, it's on to the circus in the Big Apple against the Mets for three. And next week, the Phillies and Brewers, both contenders in their division, come to Nats Park.
The Nats better find some answers quickly or things are going to get real ugly around these parts.
THE GOOD: Ian Desmond went 4-for-5 with two RBIs in the leadoff spot, though one of the runs he drove in came courtesy of a safety squeeze. That's twice now already this season Riggleman's asked a hitter to bunt with a man on third. Desperate times.
THE BAD: Ian Desmond made his first error of the season, resulting in the Marlins sixth run in the sixth inning.
THE UGLY: The 3-4-5 hitters combined to go 0-for-10 with two walks and left nine men on. Adam LaRoche is hitting .158 and Michael Morse is at .118 this season thus far. No wonder the Marlins are pitching around Ryan Zimmerman.
THE STATS: Six hits, five walks. 2-for-10 with RISP, 8 LOB, 1 GIDP. E: Desmond (1)
NEXT GAME: Thursday at Florida Marlins at 7:10 pm. John Lannan (0-1, 1.80) vs. Josh Johnson (1-0, 2.70).