Showing posts with label MARLINS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MARLINS. Show all posts

STRASBURG STRIKES OUT 10 IN SIX ONE-HIT INNINGS

In an appropriately fitting way to end the Washington Nationals' second-best season record-wise since the move from Montreal in 2005, the man they expect to lead them even higher, right handed starter Stephen Strasburg, was simply dominant in a 3-1 win over the Florida Marlins, striking out 10 in six innings, limiting the home team to one hit and two walks in their final game at Miami's Sun Life Stadium.  

The Nats won their 80th game, going 17-10 in the month of September, equalling their June record for their hottest months of the season.  The Nats finish in third place in the N.L. East for the first time since the move, 3 1/2 games ahead of the fourth place New York Mets.

Strasburg was simply sensational, using all of his pitches in a masterful performance.  The Marlins got one base hit, a sawed-off bloop single from Gaby Sanchez in the second inning.  In fact, the second inning was the only frame Strasburg allowed any base runners at all.  A lead-off walk by Mike Stanton ended up as the front end of a double play, and center fielder Bryan Peterson walked behind Sanchez' single.  But Strasburg was able to get catcher Brett Hayes to pop up to shortstop Ian Desmond to end the inning.

He did not allow another runner.

According to PitchFX, Strasburg threw more change-ups and curveballs than in any of his previous four starts the season.  He got 15 swinging strikes spread across all four of his pitches, and threw 54 of his 79 pitches for strikes.  He averaged 96-MPH with his four-seam fastball.

Perhaps his most dominant inning was the fourth as he struck out the side, with both Greg Dobbs and Mike Stanton watching strike three on curveballs.

The 23-year old righty accumulated 24 innings in his five 2011 starts, allowing four earned runs on 15 hits and two walks, striking out 24.

Strasburg left to handshakes and back slaps after the sixth, and was followed to the mound by Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, who earned his 43th save of the season.  Storen was supposedly off-limits today, as he told media before the game he was unavailable, so he must have been feeling better by the time the bottom of the ninth rolled around.

The Nats picked up two runs in the fifth on Ian Desmond's one-out single, driving in Ivan Rodriguez and Steve Lombardozzi, and a solo insurance run in the eighth on Roger Bernadina's RBI single, plating Alex Cora, who had tripled in his at bat.

Wednesday's season-ending win might be little more than window dressing on a campaign that was more successful record-wise than almost anyone would have predicted, especially considering the Nats finished the year 14th in batting average in the N.L., 13th in on-base percentage, and 11th in slugging. 

But crossing the 80-win threshold is a symbolic achievement for an organization, team and fan base that have had more than their fair share of tough times in the past six years, including back-to-back 100-loss seasons, the Smiley Gonzalez affair, countless Philly Phan invasions, and in successive years losing their two best pitchers -- foundations for the franchise -- to the dreaded Tommy John surgery.

Strasburg's re-emergence this September gave the Nats a much-needed boost after slogging through a lousy July (11-15) and August (12-15).  His appearance Wednesday was the exclamation point on the Nats successful season and gives a glimpse to Nats fans of the promise of the future.
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THE GOOD:  Um, Strasburg.  Man is he going to be fun watching next season.

THE BAD:  Chris Marrero went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, hitting clean-up today.  Neither Ryan Zimmerman on Michael Morse played on the last day of the season.

THE UGLY:  Jayson Werth went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, hitting third.  Werth ends the first year of his seven-year, $126 million contract .232/.330/.389 with 20 homers and 58 RBIs.

THE STATS:  5 hits, 2 BBs, 8 Ks.  2-for-3 w/RISP, 3 LOB, one GIDP.  No errors.

GAME 159 REVIEW: Nats Clinch Third Place with 6-4 Over Marlins

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, September 27, 2011 | , , , | 3 comments »

When they needed him most -- and just like he has all season -- Michael Morse came though.  Trailing 4-3 with two outs in the top of the ninth, Morse jacked his 30th home run of the season, leading the Washington Nationals not only to a 6-4 win over the staggering Florida Marlins, but a clinch of third place for the first time for this franchise since the move in 2005.

The Nats record is 79-80 with two games remaining, keeping their dream alive of an over-.500 record for the first time since the move.  Washington has won 14 of their last 18 games to close the season on a strong, competitive note.

Morse's blast made a winner of Atahualpa Severino, his first win in the big leagues.  Henry Rodriguez, fresh of his "Nintendo"-like appearance the other night, gave up a hit in an otherwise uneventful bottom of the ninth for his second save of the season.

Nats starter Tommy Milone didn't have his best start of the season, allowing seven hits and a walk over 4 1/3 innings.  He departed with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth.  Craig Stammen took over and allowed an inherited run to tie the game at three on a wild pitch, but escaped further damaged, inducing a couple of pop ups to end the inning.

Ian Desmond had another big night out of the leadoff spot, going 2-for-4 with a walk and three runs scored.  He also stole a base, one of five on the night for the Nationals against Marlins catcher John Buck.

The Nats have made a remarkable run at the end of the season to elevate themselves into third place for the first time in their brief tenure in D.C.  It's difficult to make too many judgments based on September baseball, but the series they took against the Braves, who are fighting for their playoff lives was impressive enough.  And no matter the circumstances, the Nats always have trouble with the Marlins, who own a 10-6 record against the Nats this season.

Still, it's refreshing to see the team playing as hard and as well as they have in September, especially with the troubles this franchise has had in the past playing out the string.  It's a testament to the talent base -- and the club's leadership, primarily the field manager -- that these Nationals aren't settling for the end of the season.
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THE GOOD:  Ian Desmond.  Since being inserted at the top of the Nats lineup on Aug. 17, he's hit .299/.335/.437 with four homers, 12 RBIs and 23 runs.

THE BAD:  Danny Espinosa went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.  But he did walk twice as well, so not all bad.

THE UGLY:  Todd Coffey had a rare bad outing, giving up a hit and walk tot he only two batters he faced.  Sean Burnett was able to bail him out in the seventh.

THE STATS:  10 hits, 6 BBs, 8 Ks.  3-for-11 w/RISP, 10 LOB, 2 GIDP.  E: Werth (8).

NEXT GAME:  Tuesday at 7:10 pm against at the Marlins.  John Lannan (10-13, 3.73) faces Javier Vazquez (12-11, 3.77).

GAME 151 REVIEW: Wang Strong as Nats Hold off Marlins 4-3

Posted by Dave Nichols | Sunday, September 18, 2011 | , , , | 0 comments »

Until he ran out of gas a little bit in the seventh inning, Chien-Ming Wang was his ground ball inducing best Sunday, getting seven such outs on the day. And with increasing confidence in his slider, throwing it more as a swing-and-miss pitch with two strikes, the Taiwan native also struck out five without walking a batter in the Washington Nationals 4-3 win over the Florida Marlins, before 26,581 at Nats Park.

Wang was sharp from the very beginning, allowing just one base runner — a single to Marlins pitcher Brad Hand — through four innings. Even after allowing a solo shot to Gaby Sanchez to lead off the fifth, Wang settled right back down, retiring the Marlins in order to finish off that inning.

Wang pitched out of a littel trouble in the sixth. A two-out single by marlins right fielder Mike Stanton put two on, but Wang got 1B Greg Dobbs to bounce out to first to get out of the jam.

In the seventh, Wang met his demise. He had two outs with the Marlins No. 8 hitter, backup catcher Brett Hayes, coming to bat. But Wang left a sinker too high in the zone and Hayes lined the pitch into the left field stands, making it a one-run game.

Manager Davey Johnson went to old reliable, Tyler Clippard, to end the inning, getting pinch-hitter Vinny Rottino to ground to third.

Clippard then had a 1-2-3 eighth and Drew Storen threw a perfect ninth inning for his 38th save of the season.

The win was the Nats 42nd at home this season, setting a team record for most home victories since the move in 2005.

Washington got two RBIs from Marrero, a sacrifice fly in the second and a ground rule double to rigth in the fourth to pace the Nats.

But that was about it from the offense, as the Nats managed just five hits on the day, two from Ryan Zimmerman.

Ten games remain to the 2011 season. The Nationals need one win to tie their previous second best mark since the move, and every win after that is gravy. One thing is for certain though. For maybe the very first time in their brief history in D.C., there is legitimate cause for optimism for the future of these Nationals.
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THE GOOD: Clippard and Storen. 2 1/3 perfect relief innings with three strikeouts. That’s the definition of shut down.

THE BAD: The Marlins defense. The centerfielder botched a routine ball in on a easy line drive to allow the Nats second run to score, then the right fielder made a pretty terrible play on Marrero’s ball, which maybe could have been caught, before it bounced into the stands for the ground rule double.

THE UGLY: Jayson Werth. 0-for-4, and looked at 92 MPH right down the middle to end his last at bat.

THE STATS: 5 hits, 1 BB, 8 Ks. 2-for-6 w/RISP, 3 LOB, zero GISP. No errors.

NEXT GAME: Tuesday in Philadelphia. Game 1 at 1:05 pm features Ross Detwiler (2-5, 3.76) against Kyle Kendrick (8-6, 3.22). Game 2 at 7:05

GAME 149 REVIEW: Marlins’ Vazquez Shuts Out Nats 3-0

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, September 17, 2011 | , , , | 0 comments »

Javier Vazquez dominated Nats in 3-0 shutout. (photo by C.Nichols)
Javier Vazquez was once a very good pitcher. Lately, he’s been on a bit of a roll, resurrecting some of the skill that once made him one of the toughest pitchers in the league. Last night, he continued that roll, dominating the Washington Nationals, shutting them out on five hits, delivering a 3-0 victory to his Florida Marlins.

Over his last 10 games, dating back to July 27 against these same Nats, Vazquez has once again been one of the best starters in the league, pitching to a 4-2 record with a 1.70 ERA, allowing combined 60 hits and walks in 69 innings pitched. In his last four starts (4-0), covering 29 innnings, he’s allowed one earned run and struck out 27.

Vazquez was in control all game, needing just 104 pitches to throw the complete game shut out, striking out seven and not walking a batter. All five hits allowed were harmless singles, and the Nats got runners into scoring position in just two innings. Both times they did, however, the Nats helped Vazquez out.

In the second, Rick Ankiel hit a one-out single and took third on a Danny Espinosa base hit into the left-center field gap. But center fielder Bryan Peterson cut the ball off from going to the wall, and fired a strike to second base to nail Espinosa trying to the extra base for the second out of the inning. Chris Marrero then flew out to end the threat.

The Nats got back-to-back singles by Ryan Zimmerman and Laynce Nix to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning, and manager Davey Johnson sent in Brian Bixler to pinch-run for Nix. Vazquez then struck out Ankiel and Espinosa. Marrero looked at two balls, but on the second ball, Bixler strayed too far off first and was pegged by catcher John Buck.

“As a base runner, you just have to be aware,” Johnson said of Bixler’s gaffe. “You can’t get off there too far. You want to be moving toward second, but you’ve got to be scuffling back [after the pitch].”
Vazquez did not put another runner on base in the final two innings. “Obviously, he was hitting his spots,” Johnson said of Vazquez. “He threw a lot of fastballs. I don’t know the count, but he got away with pitching up a lot. With a guy like that, you gotta get on his fastball.

“He pitched basically that whole game with his fastball, from my point of view. He got up [in the strike zone] when he wanted to and he stayed down when he wanted to. By and large, he got most of his outs with his fastball.”

John Lannan earned "quality" start despite three walks. (photo by Cheryl Nichols)
Vazquez’ effort made a loser out of John Lannan (9-13, 3.68). Lannan was credited with a “quality” start, limiting the Marlins to three earned runs over six innings. But he pitched in trouble all evening, putting 11 runners on base — eight hits and three walks. In contrast to Vazquez, who needed 104 pitches over nine innings, Lannan needed 96 to get through six.

Washington is now 4-9 this season against their chief nemesis, and courtesy of the Mets win over Atlanta, are back in a tie with New York for third place in the N.L,. East, with a 71-78 record.
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THE GOOD: Craig Stammen gave the Nats two solid innings of hitless relief, striking out three.

THE BAD: Roger Bernadina got the start in left. He made a really nice sliding catch early on that would have eluded Michael Morse, saving at least one run, but he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, hitting second in the order.

THE UGLY: The base running. Espinosa tried to do too much in trying to take that extra base in the second as he was out easily with the play in front of him. I don’t know what Bixler was thinking. He had a man in front of him at second and he was half-way there when Buck threw down to first. When you only manage five hits — and cant draw a walk — off the starting pitcher, you just can’t give away outs on the bases. But this team has been doing that all season long.

THE STATS: 5 hits, zero BBs, 7 ks. 0-for-3 w/RISP, 3 LOB, zero GIDP. E: Desmond (23)

NEXT GAME: Saturday against the Marlins at 7:05 pm. Stephen Strasburg (0-0, 1.13) faces Chris Volstad (5-12, 5.31).


(photo by Cheryl Nichols)


The starting pitcher threw 115 pitches in 5 2/3 innings. Three lead off walks came around to score.  A missed sign by the third base coach at a critical juncture killed a rally. The left-handed reliever once again couldn't do his job.  The flamethrower allowed a run without giving up a base hit.  An offense that, despite six walks from the opposition's starter in less than four innings, couldn't push across more than one run against him.

These are the things that led to today's 5-2 loss to the Florida Marlins.  And the Washington Nationals, whose hopes for finishing at or hear the .500 mark are dwindling, better figure out something fast, because the N.L.'s hottest team, the New York Mets, come in Friday for a three-game weekend series before the 96-win pace Atlanta Braves next week.

Manager Davey Johnson looks more confused, frustrated, and downright sad after each successive loss.  He's never had a team that has "underachieved" like this before, he said Wednesday night.  But a look up and down the roster reveals more players playing closer to their career numbers than not.  The two glaring exceptions are Johnson's two best players.  Ryan Zimmerman seems to be heating up, while the Nats continue to wait for Jayson Werth to do the same.

The streak in June where this team won 13 out of 15 games gave everyone in NatsTown thrills, but it also set up unrealistic expectations on this club. Before the streak, the Nats were playing at a .428 clip, a 69-win pace.  Since the streak ended it's been a little worse than that, including losses now in five straight and seven out of eight.  Overall, the team is still on a 76 win pace. But with things seemingly spiraling out of control, that number seems in real jeopardy now.

As for today, starter John Lannan (L, 7-7, 3.63) battled his way though 5 2/3 innings, and he was far from sharp.  He issued free passes to the leadoff hitters in the third and fourth innings, btoh of whom scored.  A solo home run to Mike Stanton and a double to backup catcher Brett Hayes in the sixth ended his day one out from another quality start.  But Sean Burnett once again could not do his job, allowing an inherited runner to score on consecutive base hits before finally ending the inning.

In the eighth, Henry Rodriguez allowed the deficit to increase without giving up a hit.  He walked the first batter, allowed him to steal uncontested, threw a wild pitch that moved the runner over to third, who eventually scored on a ground out to the right side. In his last 9 2/3 innings, Hot Rod has given up 10 earned runs and walked nine with three wild pitches.

As for the offense, it was, once again, offensive.  Take out Ryan Zimmerman's four hits and the rest of the team combined for just three more, two by Jayson Werth.  In fact, both of the Nats runs were "driven in" by Werth, the first on a pop up to right field that Stanton couldn't pick up in the hazy sky that fell for a single, the second on a soft liner to center field. 

The Nats had a chance to do some real damage in the fourth, with runners at first and second with two down and Danny Espinosa in a 3-1 count.  But due to missed communications between Johnson and third base coach Bo Porter, the Nats tried a double steal and Ian Desmond was gunned out at third to kill the rally.

That was the bulk sum of offense the Nats could muster against lefty Brad Hand, who walked six in 3 2/3 innings, and a parade of Marlins relievers.

The Nationals have six more games on this homestand and have fallen six games below that elusive .500 mark at 49-55.  Maybe the trade deadline has a few players playing scared.  Maybe the pitching, which carried the Nats much of the way so far, has finally run out of gas.  One thing's for certain though: this team is less like the one that had that hot 15-game streak than the one that's played the other 89.
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THE GOOD:  Ryan Zimmerman.  His four hit day matches his career high.  Hopefully his power will return soon too.

THE BAD:  Jonny Gomes, in his first game for the Nationals, went 0-for-3 with a K and left five on base.

THE UGLY:  Henry Rodriguez.  He got through his first inning fine, but the second inning was atrocious. He's a liability right now.

THE STATS:  Seven hits, seven walks, eight strikeouts.  2-for-6 with RISP, 11 LOB, one GIDP.  E: Espinosa (7).

NEXT GAME:  Friday at 7:05 against the New York Mets from Nats Park.  Chien-Ming Wang makes his much anticipated return to MLB after two-plus years in recovery from shoulder problems.  He will face Dillon Gee (9-3, 3.75).

For the better part of three hours and fifteen minutes Wednesday night, the Washington Nationals slogged their way to a big deficit to the visiting Florida Marlins.  The veteran starter did not go deep into the game, two usually dependable relievers gave up late runs that at the time looked like padding, and the offense looked as it has all season: befuddled.

But something funny happened on the way to that eventual loss.  The Nats finally showed some life, scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth against a little-used reliever that most media in attendance had to look up in their stat service of choice when he entered the game. Unfortunately, the rally fell short, as Laynce Nix - representing the tying run -- flied out to right fielder Mike Stanton with his back against the outfield wall to end the game.

"I thought it was out," manager Davey Johnson said after the game.  So did many of what remained of the 21,974 that came out to see if the Nats could beat a team that traditionally has owned them in the W-L column.  They could not, and the Nats fell for the fourth straight game and sixth time in their last seven games.  Johnson's record since taking over is a regrettable 9-16.

Ultimately, the 7-5 defeat to the Marlins was just another loss.  We won't know if the momentum the team built in the ninth inning rally will even carry over to the next game.  But at least, after almost 3 1/2 hours of pretty lousy baseball, they showed up.

There were many ways this game was lost.  Nats starter Livan Hernandez was ineffective, as he needed 80 pitches to get through four innings.  And when he allowed the first two batters to reach in the fifth, Johnson yanked him.

"Livo used a lot of pitches in four innings. I've never seen him around 80 pitches in four innings. He was close to 90, and I took him out. He is usually in the seventh inning by that time," Johnson commented.  Ross Detwiler was called upon and he allowed one of the inherited runners to come around, but figuring he entered with no outs and runners on the corners, he managed to get out of the inning fairly well.

All told, Hernandez gave up four earned runs on five hits and three walks, striking out five.  This marks the second time in three games that he has pitched just four innings.  Detwiler put a lot of runners on in his two innings of work, but kept the Marlins off the board, which is more than Todd Coffey and Drew Storen could say.

Coffey gave up a solo home run to Mike Cameron (hitting .167 entering play) as Johnson tried to get a second inning out of the hefty reliever, and Storen gave up Cameron's second homer of the game, a blast in the top of the ninth that at the time seemed gratuitous, putting Florida up 7-1. Little did anyone know that it was actually the game-winning hit.

As for the other side of things, the offense again was non-existent up until two outs in the ninth. At that point, a Jerry Hairston single, Ryan Zimmerman ground rule double and Michael Morse ground ball single the opposite way plated four runs off reliever Steve Cishek. But Marlins closer Leo Nunez got Laynce Nix to fall mere feet short of tying the game with what would have been his second home run of the night.  Instead, the ball fell harmlessly into right fielder Mike Stanton's glove to kill the rally.

The loss drops the Nats to 49-54, five games below .500, and honestly, the team looks more like the second half squads of the last few seasons than the plucky team that as late as two weeks ago looked like they would challenge the .500 mark this season.  With another game against Florida, then series against the Mets and Braves in this homestand, if the Nats don't turn things around in a hurry they once again won't be playing any meaningful games in September.
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THE GOOD:  Ryan Zimmerman went 3-for-5 with an RBI ground rule double in the ninth inning.

THE BAD:  Jesus Flores went 0-for-4, weakly grounding out twice and striking out.

THE UGLY:  The normally reliable Drew Storen. His name is being floated in trade rumors by national writers and he went out last night and laid a stinker. He recorded the first two outs of the inning easily, but a line drive single to Stanton and Cameron's second shot of the night ended up hurting his team.

THE STATS:  10 hits, four walks, seven strikeouts.  3-for-10 with RISP, nine LOB, one GIDP. E: Hairston (8).

NEXT GAME:  Thursday at 12:35 pm against the Marlins.  John Lannan (7-6, 3.51) hosts Brad Hand (1-3, 2.77).

NATS NOTES:  One night after having a perfect game tossed against them, the Nats Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse tried to turn the tables.  Chiefs starter Brad Peacock took a no-hitter against Columbus into the eighth, but lost his bid to the first batter of the inning, ending the no-hitter and ending his evening.  The Chiefs held on to win 2-0.

Double-A Harrisburg OF Bryce Harper hit his first home run for the Senators, a solo shot that contributed to a 6-3 win over Bowie.

TEAM ACQUIRES OF JONNY GOMES FROM REDS FOR TWO MINOR LEAGUERS

Manager Davey Johnson stood stoically before the television cameras and reporter's recorders last night, defeated and exasperated, voicing frustration over the lack of offense and increasingly inconsistent pitching efforts he's getting from his Washington Nationals club. Losses in five of the last six games has put his record since taking over at 9-15, a .375 winning percentage.

Overall, after last night's 11-2 loss, the Nationals fell to 49-53 and slipped a game behind the Florida Marlins into last place in the N.L. East for the first time since June 14.  Looking closer at the Nats' record though reveals they were 27-36 (.428) before the improbable 13-of-15 streak, and 36-51 (.413) overall with the streak removed.

If anyone -- fans, media, players, coaches or front office -- had based their expectations for the rest of the season on an unsustainable streak of good fortune in mid-June, then the last week must have been a very rude awakening.

Johnson was most candid when asked how he thought his team would respond to this latest bout of losing.  "I see us as too good to have any extended losing streaks and I keep waiting for everything to gel a little bit. It's not sitting well with me. I have a high boiling point, and I'm getting closer to it."

Most of his frustration can be directed to an anemic offense that once again has gone stone-cold.  The Nats managed just three hits on the night and are mired in next to last place in the league in average and on base percentage.  But his Johnson's pitching let him down last night too.

Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann added 6 2/3 innings to his total pitched this season, inching ever-closer to his team-mandated 160 inning limit in his first full season returning from Tommy John surgery.  After a long layoff due to the Major League All-Star game and getting pushed back to start the second half of the season, Zimmermann was not as sharp as he's been previously this season, as he gave up six earned runs on eight hits.

Zimmermann (L, 6-9, 3.27) did not walk a batter in the game, and threw 64 of his 90 pitches for strikes -- which may actually have been part of his problem.  Without his "good stuff" early on, he could not get the Marlins to bite on his breaking balls, and pitches without movement were driven for power; five of the eight hits against -- including two home runs -- went for extra bases.

As the evening wore on and he tired a little, his command came back and he actually pitched better, striking out the side in the sixth for three of his five Ks.  At 126 2/3 innings at this point, Zimmermann has about 34 innings before he reaches his limit, probably five or six starts.

As has been the case for most of the season, the Nats bats were mostly silent.  Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco (W, 7-7, 4.04) didn't give up a hit until the fifth inning, when Laynce Nix led off the frame with his 13th home run of the season. Unfortunately, the Nats were already down 5-1 at that point, and it just got worse as the night went along.

Washington trailed 6-2 entering the ninth inning, and Davey Johnson called on Henry Rodriguez, who had a rough outing his last appearance in Los Angeles when he walked three and gave up a run without striking anyone out. Johnson went to the flamethrower trying to get him back on track, but the performance was even worse than the previous, as Rodriguez allowed five earned runs on three hits and three walks, recording just one out with the 33 pitches he threw.

"I thought it was a good time to get him back, get that bad taste out of his mouth," Johnson said.  "Last time out didn't... My Ouija board isn't working too good right now."

Johnson didn't hide his feelings for the pitching problems in the game.  "I know we're a better ballclub than we've shown at times.  Anytime a day like today when your pitching doesn't do what it's capable of doing, when one of my relievers doesn't do what he's capable of doing, it gets ugly. It's painful for everybody in this clubhouse."
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THE GOOD:  Todd Coffey was perfect in his one inning of relief.  Yup, that kind of night.

THE BAD:  Roger Bernadina and Danny Espinosa were a combined 0-for-7 with one walk in the top two spots in the order.

THE UGLY:  How could it be anything else but Hot Rod's meltdown?  Three walks and three hits in 1/3 of an inning. He threw 33 pitches to seven batters and retired exactly one of them.  Even the ground out plated a run.

THE STATS:  Three hits, four walks, eight strikeouts.  0-for-3 with RISP, five LOB, zero GIDP. E: Ramos (4).

NEXT GAME:  Wednesday at 7:05 against the Marlins.  Livan Hernandez (5-9, 4.04) faces Javier Vazquez (6-9, 5.35).

NATS NOTES:  During the National Anthem, news broke that the Nationals acquired OF Jonny Gomes from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for two minor leaguers: OF Bill Rhinehart and LHP Christopher Manno.  Gomes, 30, is hitting .211/.339/.399 this season in 265 plate appearances.  He gives the Nats a veteran right-handed bat to add to the stable of left-handed outfielders already on the roster.

Rhinehart is a 26 year old outfielder enjoying a fine campaign for Double-A Harrisburg, hitting .283 with 21 home runs and 59 RBIs in 89 games. Manno, 22, a left-handed reliever, earned 12 saves in 34 appearances for Single-A Hagerstown.

Nationals parade off the field with a Sunday win over Florida. (A.Amobi)
By Anthony Amobi, Special to Nats News Network

WASHINGTON – After a week of offense struggles, the Washington Nationals finally got their act together and hit pay dirt as they emerged victorious over the Florida Marlins, 8-4.

A solid effort by starting pitcher Jason Marquis combined with a six-run first inning by the offense helped the Nationals end a three-game losing streak. In addition, they averted a sweep at the hands of the Florida Marlins.

Ivan Rodriguez drove in three runs and Jason Marquis had a solid outing, going 6 2/3 innings and allowing four runs – two earned – in a fairly easy victory.

Jason Marquis gutted out 6 2/3 innings to earn the win over Florida. (A.Amobi)
The Nats are now 19-21 on the season, and considering the lack offense from the team in the first 40 games, in addition to All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman out due to injury, it’s amazing how they’ve managed stick around the .500 mark.

The Nationals’ offense started early jumping on the Marlins’ Javier Vazquez in the first inning. Laynce Nix added an RBI-single, followed by a Jerry Hairston groundout that gave them a 2-0 lead.

Soon after, Ivan Rodriguez’s two-run single and Jason Marquis – who helped out his own cause – plated in two runs with a double that put Washington up 6-0. Marquis tried to stretch his double into a triple, but was thrown out.

That frame energized the crowd and the Nationals rolled from there.

"Getting runs early was big. It’s been a bit of an issue for us," manager Jim Riggleman quipped in the post-game press conference.

Vazquez (2-4) took the loss for the Marlins and only lasted four innings, giving up six runs.

Ivan Rodriguez drove in his third run of the day with an RBI-double in the fifth inning. The Nationals added their eighth run in the eighth as Roger Bernadina plated in a run with an infield single.

Marquis (5-1) gave up two runs in the second inning as Gaby Sanchez reached base on an error and scored on a sacrifice fly by Mike Stanton. Later on the frame, Brett Hayes plated in a run with an RBI-single.

Florida (23-16) got two more runs in the seventh off an RBI-double from Greg Dobbs and a Chris Coghlan RBI-single.

A strong Washington bullpen muzzled Florida as Tyler Clippard threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief and Cole Kimball pitched a scoreless ninth.

In other news, reliever Todd Coffey got drilled by an Emilio Bonifacio line drive on the elbow and left the game in the seventh inning. Clippard came in with two outs in the frame and ended it.

In the post game press conference, it was announced that X-rays were negative on Coffey and he was bruised.  The Nationals descibe him as day-to-day at this point.
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THE GOOD: Roger Bernadina was 2-for-4 on the day and is batting .344 in his brief time back in the majors so far. Many contend he should not have started the season at Triple-A, but he was probably a victim of the numbers game and having options for the minors left.

Bernadina's presence has been felt at the top of the lineup and he’s definitely been working on his game. He didn’t get any of his hits out of the infield; however, his athleticism and speed helped him out greatly on Sunday.


Bernadina is congratulated by Pudge Rodriguez after scoring against the Marlins. (A.Amobi)
Let’s not forget Marquis’s effort on the mound – plus with the bat. He looks like a completely different pitcher from last season. He’s a major factor as to why the Nationals have hovered around the .500 mark all season.

Although Ivan Rodriguez is a part-time catcher now, he has shown time and time again in Washington that he can get the job done when possible. He had two hits and three runs driven in on Sunday. I don’t know if he will be in a Nationals uniform at the end of the season, but he’s still definitely a useful player.

THE BAD: Adam LaRoche went 0-for-3 on the day and is batting .188 for the season. We all know that he’s a historically slow starter; however, it’s no longer ‘early’, as we’re at the 40-game mark.

The Nationals are statistically at the bottom of every offensive category, and while I am not trying to solely blame LaRoche, the bottom line is that he hits in the middle of the order. The team needs his bat to heat up sooner rather than later. We all know that, and so does he.

THE UGLY: Danny Espinosa is really scuffling at the plate despite his play in the field. He went 0-for-4 on the day and is batting .193.  The Nats love Espinosa's defense, but if he doesn't straighten himself out at the plate, he could need some time off to make some adjustments.

THE STATS:  11 hits, four walks, five Ks. 6-for-11 with RISP, five LOB, 0 GIDP.  E: Hairston (5)

NEXT GAME:  Monday at 7:05 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park. John Lannan (2-4, 4.79) faces Paul Maholm (1-5, 3.60).

"I got no problems with anybody's approach, the way they're going about it, as long as they keep a positive attitude about it and just keep getting after it the way they are and don't accept it." -- Manager Jim Riggleman, on Nationals' approach at the plate.

Jayson Werth symbolizes the Nationals offensive struggles thus far in 2011. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

The Washington Nationals have the lowest batting average and on-base percentage in the National League.  They have struggled all season to score runs, and Saturday's 1-0 loss to the Florida Marlins was no exception.  The Nats were limited to four hits and three walks by Anibal Sanchez and Leo Nunez in another dominating pitching performance against them.

In fact, the Nationals only managed one fly ball out all afternoon; everything else was on the ground, a strike out or an infield pop up.

The loss drop sthe Nats to 18-21, last place in the N.L. East pending the New York Mets result with Houston Saturday night.

The Nats had their chances though, especially in the later innings.  In both the seventh and ninth innings, Jayson Werth led off, got on base safely, and reached second with no outs, only to be stranded both times.

In the seventh, Werth doubled off Sanchez to get things going. But Laynce Nix struck out and Adam LaRoche rolled a weak ground ball to second that moved Werth over to third.  After a five-pitch walk to Wilson Ramos, Jerry Hairston grounded to third on the first pitch of the at bat to end the threat.

The ninth inning failure was even worse.

Werth drew a walk against N.L. saves leader Nunez and moved up to second on Nix' single to right.  LaRoche then hit a slow chopper to third that Greg Dobbs gobbled up and forced Nix at second, so the Nats had the tying run at third in the bottom of the ninth with just one out.  But Ramos lunged at the first pitch he saw, an 84-MPH slider, and popped out softly behind the bag at first. Jerry Hairston needed just two pitches to fly out to left to end the game.

After the game, most of the questions for manager Jim Riggleman were about his team's lack of firepower.

Was Riggleman disappointed or upset in his team's approach at the plate, especially late in the game? 
"I never get into any of that, the mechanics of hitting. To me, there's so many things that contradict themselves in the game. The first pitch strike is the highest average in baseball so if you take a strike, is that the way right way to go? If you make an out on the first pitch certainly it can be perceived as 'What was your hurry?' or get a better pitch.

But, you know what, that's all hindsight. I got no problems with anybody's approach, the way they're going about it, as long as they keep a positive attitude about it and just keep getting after it the way they are and don't accept it. Don't accept the level that we're at offensively right now, keep pushing to get better."
What did Riggleman think about his team's attitude or confidence in the dugout?
"You'd be surprised. The energy level, the confidence in the dugout has not wavered. The guys are just doing everything they can.  Looking at tape, they're getting extra work, doing everything they can to come out of this. 

We're running into some good pitching, which in the National League East you're just, that's the way it's going to be. The National League East has got really good pitching -- including ours. To answer your question 'What's the feeling in the dugout?', the feeling is positive in the dugout. Nobody has ever wavered from that."
What did Riggleman think about the team's early season struggles?
"I don't ever really get into that anyway. I don't think it's early now, I don't think it was early three weeks ago. The schedule says it's early but every game is a big game. Every at bat, you're striving to have a good at bat and you're trying to come out of any struggles that you're in and that's what our players do.

Whether it's early or late, whatever the case is, every game counts the same on the schedule. Like I said, I stick by our players. They're doing everything they can. The work they put in, you can't exceed that. They do what you can do to get ready to go have good at bats.

They go out there and they battle and as I've said, I'm proud to be a part of them."
Riggleman was stoic in his defense of his players.  He said on the first-pitch swing Hairston took in the seventh that he "just missed his ball."  I suppose you have to credit the manager for protecting his players and keeping a positive attitude when the team is having such a hard time being productive.  Riggleman continues to describe how much effort his team is putting forth, and that's probably a testament to the quality of people that GM Mike Rizzo assembled this season.

At some point soon for the Nationals though, production has to outweigh effort.  Their $126 million man has to start hitting.  Their free agent first baseman, a notorious slow starter, has to fill his yearly consistent production.  Their rookies need to learn patience.

Because Riggleman's right, it isn't early any more.  We're a quarter of the way through the season and the Nats are only three games below .500.  They've now lost three imminently winnable one-run games in a row.  After such a positive road trip, where they went 4-5, the last three games have shown signs of cracking under the pressure and stress of the buildup of offensive futility.

They need to figure things out, because there isn't any help coming from the minors.  Now that Bernadina's here, presumably for the future, there really just isn't any other hitter down at Syracuse ready to step up and help the big club.  No, the guys wearing the uniform today have to figure things out for themselves.

Because, sooner or later, the lack of offensive production is going to catch up with this team.  You can't win over the course of the season hitting .225 as a team.
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NATS NOTES:  Reliever Cole Kimball made his Major League debut Saturday, throwing  a scoreless ninth inning in a one-run ballgame.  He struck out Gaby Sanchez with a couple of curveballs, got Logan Morrison to line out to second, walked Mike Stanton on a diet of breaking stuff and coaxed a lazy fly ball to left from Greg Dobbs. [Photos]

Cole Kimball made his MLB debut for the Nats in the ninth inning. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Henry Rodriguez struck out both batters he faced in the eighth inning without incident.

Livan Hernandez threw another beauty.  He went seven innings and allowed just one run, Stanton's mammoth shot to the Red Porch restaurant.  He gave up six hits and two walks total, striking out four. Livo also reached a career milestone of 3,000 innings pitched.

It was also Pups in the Park day. [Photos]

Jayson Werth dives back to first safely against Marlins. (C/Nichols/Nats News Network)
Cole Kimball delivers in his Major League debut. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Laynce Nix looks for a kid to toss the ball to at the end of an inning. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)


After hot start, Wilson Ramos has joined rest of Nats stuggling offense. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

There's a trite expression that says (insert sport here) is a game of inches.  Twice last night in extra innings we saw evidence that the axiom still applies to Major League Baseball.

Pinch-hitter Michael Morse missed a home run to the deepest part of the ballpark by mere inches in the bottom of the tenth with two outs and was forced to settle for a double. He was stranded there when Jerry Hairston flied out to right to end the inning.  Omar Infante, who was dead-to-rights on a play at the plate, lifted his lead hand to avoid Wilson Ramos' tag and got the tips of the fingers of his back hand on the plate after the catcher lunged for the player instead of protecting the plate.

That's essentially how the Florida Marlins defeated the Washington Nationals, 6-5, before 19,503 mostly-stunned fans Friday night at Nationals Park.

The loss drops the Nats two games below .500 at 18-20.

The loss spoiled Roger Bernadina's big night, as "The Shark" went 3-for-5 with a two-run double, walk, stolen base, and perhaps the catch of the year in center field, robbing Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton of extra bases with an acrobatic diving catch running full-speed away from home plate. Bernadina looked like he got the wind knocked out of him when he landed hard, but regained his composure to jog off the field to a standing ovation from the crowd -- and his teammates.

"Bernie's shown us great flashes at times and he's getting an opportunity to play," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We need a leadoff hitter and he's playing very well."

Brian Broderick (0-1, 6.57) took the loss, giving up two hits in the 11th inning.  Infante singled up the middle past a stretched out Ian Desmond, then Greg Dobbs hit a hard ground ball down the right field line to sent Infante racing home from first. Hairston took the relay throw from Jayson Werth and fired a strike to home plate well in advance of Infante, but the veteran's tricky slide eluded the rookie Ramos' lunging tag to score the game-winner.

"[Infante] was safe. He made a great slide," Riggleman said.  "He put his hand out there and pulled his hand back and put the other one out there. Ramos made a great effort, diving at him, to put the tag on him but he's diving to where he thinks his hand is going to be and Infante just made a great slide."

The Nats went quietly in the bottom of the inning against Marlins closer Leo Nunez, who earned his Major League leading 13th save.

Neither starting pitcher was particularly sharp, nor factored in the decision. Tom Gorzelanny gave up three runs in the first inning, on a two-run homer by Gaby Sanchez and a solo shot from John Buck, and another solo homer to Mike Stanton in the third.  All told, he went 4 2/3 innings, allowing four earned runs on eight hits and an intentional walk, striking out six.  The Nats got to Marlins starter Chris Volstad for four earned on eight hits and one walk, and struck out seven times against a pitcher who entered play with a 5.73 ERA.

Ian Desmond drove in the Nats first run with a single, Laynce Nix hit a bomb into the upper tank in right center in the fourth, and Bernadina's two-run double came later that inning. Nix plated the Nats final run in the eighth with a double off reliever Mike Dunn.

The Nats had a chance in the bottom of the ninth, as a two-out walk by Bernadina and single by Desmond put runners on the corners with Jayson Werth due. But Desmond took second on defensive indifference, allowing the Marlins to intentionally walk Werth. They then brought a lefty to face Adam LaRoche, who is hitting .127 against lefties in 2011.  LaRoche promptly grounded out to second to end the threat.

The Nationals fought back tonight after being in a hole early, but just couldn't pull it out against the Marlins last night.  If the Nats are going to have a chance to achieve their lofty goal of remaining around .500 long enough to be in the conversation as the weather warms up, they need to find a way to win these games of inches.  This was one prime for the taking and they fell just short.
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THE GOOD: Roger Bernadina.  He had it all on display last night. 3-for-5, two RBI, stolen base and an early nominee for defensive play of the year.  Laynce Nix was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and his fifth home run of the year.  Jerry Hairston went 2-for-5 and made the great relay throw to the plate. Drew Storen was overpowering in his two innings, retiring all six batters faced, striking out six.

THE BAD: Tom Gorzelanny. He got roughed up pretty good. Four earned on eight hits was easily his worst performance so far this season.

THE UGLY: Danny Espinosa.  0-for-3 with two more strikeouts.  He's not shortening his swing at all with two strikes and he really looks lost right now.  His average has dipped all the way down to .205.

THE STATS: 12 hits, five walks, 11 Ks. 4-for-12 with RISP, nine LOB, three GIDP. No errors.

NEXT GAME: Saturday at 1:05 pm against the Marlins at Nats Park. Livan Hernandez (3-4, 4.29) faces Anibal Sanchez (2-1, 3.46). See link for more about Saturday's events at the park.

NATS NOTES: Riggleman indicated after the game that Desmond was playing with a sore quadriceps and will be given the game off tomorrow.

Over the weekend, the Washington Nationals rebounded a bit after their three-game sweep at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies by taking two of three games against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium, which is usually a house of horrors for the visiting Nationals.

The wins improves the Nats record to 16-18, keeping them ahead of the New York Mets in fourth place in the N.L. East. Washington continues their road trip Tuesday through Thursday in Atlanta.

In player personnel news, Saturday the Nats placed OF Rick Ankiel on the 15-day disabled list and recalled OF Roger Bernadina from AAA-Syracuse.

Sunday, the Nationals traded a player to be named later to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for outfielder Gregor Blanco.  Blanco, a 27 year old left-handed hitter, is a lifetime .258/.358/.324 hitter in parts of three season with Atlanta and Kansas City. Blanco was acquired as a minor leaguer and has not been added to the Nats 40-man roster.  He'll report to AAA-Syracuse, according to The Washington Post.

SUNDAY: The Nats came into the game looking to sweep the Marlins in the three-game set, but ran into Anibal Sanchez, who destroyed the Nats bats.  Sanchez carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning before giving up singles to Laynce Nix and Michael Morse.  Sanchez did not walk a batter and struck out 11 to earn the win in Florida's 8-0 victory.

Livan Hernandez was nowhere near as sharp as Sanchez.  The veteran had perhaps his toughest outing of the season, lasting just five innings and allowing six earned runs on eight hits and two walks, striking out just two.  He surrendered Gaby Sanchez' fifth home run of the season, a three-run shot, in the four-run fifth inning.

Henry Rodriguez had an interesting inning of relief, giving up a run on three walks and two wild pitches in the eighth inning.  He also sent two other balls to the wall behind home plate on the fly, and they returned so quickly to the field no runners could advance.

SATURDAY:  Tom Gorzelanny continued his remarkable run and the Nats had nine hits, including a two-run single by Adam LaRoche in the top of the first, to lead Washington to a 5-2 win over Chris Volstad and the Marlins.

Gorzelanny (2-2) allowed just two hits in seven innings.  Unfortunately, one of those hits was a two-run homer to catcher John Buck.  Despite walking six, Gorzelanny held the Marlins in check the rest of the way.  The lefty struck out six and lowered his ERA to 2.87.  In six starts, Gorzy has given up just 21 hits in 37 2/3 innings, holding opponents to an incredibly small .163 batting average against.

Roger Bernadina and Ian Desmond, hitting 1-2 in the order, both had two hits. Bernadina also drew a walk, stole a base and scored once, while Desmond scored twice and drove in a run.

Sean Burnett threw a perfect inning of relief and Drew Storen struck out one in his perfect inning, earning his seventh save of the season.

FRIDAY: Adam LaRoche's sacrifice fly in the top of the tenth was enough to push the Nats over the Marlins for a 3-2 win.  Jayson Werth drew a walk against Florida reliever Michael Dunn -- his third of the game -- and went to third on Laynce Nix' double to right.  LaRoche lofted a fly ball to left fielder Emilio Bonifacio on a 2-1 pitch that was enough to plate Werth win the winning run.

Drew Storen was credited with the win, as manager Jim Riggleman asked his closer to pitch the ninth in a tie game on the road.  When Storen got into a little trouble in the tenth in his second inning of work, he brought in Sean Burnett, who got Chris Coghlan to fly out to end the game, earning his fourth save of the season.

Jerry Hairston went 3-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.

Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann had another solid outing, going six innings and allowing just five hits and two walks, striking out six.  He did not factor in the decision and the outing lowered his ERA to 4.10.  Tyler Clippard struck out six in his two innings of work.

THE RESULT:  A win is a win.  Despite two errors and several other defensive miscues, and the hitters going 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, last night the Washington Nationals broke a seven-game losing streak to their personal nemesis Florida Marlins, 5-3 in 11 innings.

Adam LaRoche hit his first home run of the year with a man on in the top of the 11th, while four relievers combined for six shutout innings.  The win raises the Nats record to 2-4 through the first two series of the young season.

LaRoche, a notoriously slow starter, came into his final at bat of the night just 3-for-23 with no extra base hits.  But with Ryan Zimmerman on first base after a single off Marlins reliever Edward Mujica (L, 1-1), LaRoche finally saw a pitch he could handle, depositing in the stands to straight away right.

Sean Burnett then entered and finished the Marlins off, earning his second save of the season.  Burnett's inning capped a remarkable performance by the bullpen.  He, Todd Coffey (W, 1-0, 8.10), Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard combined to limit Florida to two hits over six innings.  The four struck out eight and did not walk a batter.  It was as dominating a job as you could ask for.

Particularly strong was Drew Storen.  He struck out three in two innings and was downright filthy.  He was bringing a 95 MPH fastball and late-breaking slider that was simply untouchable.  Clippard also entered and escaped from a no-out, two-on situation to keep the game tied at a critical juncture.

Nats starter John Lannan looked like he wasn't going to be in this game very long, allowing the first three Marlins batters to reach base and giving up two runs before recording an out.  But the lefty settled down and went five innings, allowing three earned runs on seven hits and two walks, striking out four.  It was not a great performance by any means, but he kept him team in the game when he did not have his best stuff.

The game was full of errors and defensive blunders from the Nats.  Rookie catcher Wilson Ramos and left fielders Laynce Nix were both charged with errors, and Rick Ankiel butchered a play in center field, but on this night anyway the gaffes did not ultimately hurt the Nationals.
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THE GOOD:  The bullpen.  Riggleman definitely has his 'pen laid out where Clippard, Storen and Burnett pitch when tied or leading, and the others when in deficit.  They all did their jobs last night in spectacular fashion, but it's a fine line to walk, expecting your starter and the same three relief pitchers to all do their jobs to earn a win.

THE BAD:  Danny Espinosa was caught stealing third with one out and tow on in the 10th inning.  In an attempt to get an extra base with one out in the inning, Espinosa made a rookie mistake.  He should have stayed put and given Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth two cracks to get him in.  Often in baseball, patience is better than aggression.

THE UGLY:  For all the emphasis on defense in the offseason, the Nationals lead the N.L. in errors through the first week of the season with eight in six games.

THE STATS:  Eight hits, three walks.  1-for-7 with RISP, 4 LOB, 2 GIDP.  E: Ramos (1), Nix (1).

NEXT GAME:  Friday at 4:10 pm at New York Mets.  Jordan Zimmermann (0-1, 3.00) v. R.A. Dickey (1-0, 0.00)


Washington Nationals (1-4, 5th NLE) v. Florida Marlins (3-2, 3rd NLE)
7:10 pm, Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL
John Lannan (1-0, 1.80) v.Josh Johnson (1-0, 2.70)
Weather: Partly sunny, breezy. 84 degrees.
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The Nationals face Josh Johnson, who led the N.L. with a 2.30 ERA in 2010, looking to salvage the final game of the three-game set.  Johnson has never lost the Nats in his career, going 7-0 in 13 starts with a 3.27 ERA and 1.156 WHIP.  Granted, these Nats are different than years past, but it shows the quality of pitcher they face trying to end a four-game skid.  And with the Nats second to last in runs per game so far in 2011, they have their work cut out for them tonight against a quality pitcher.
 
Taking the hill for the Nats is their only starter to record a victory this season, lefty John Lannan.  The five-year pro looks to build off his first start, holding the Atlanta Braves to one run on five hits in five innings.  Lannan has never started a Major League season 2-0.
 
Manager Jim Riggleman is playing around with his lineup card again today, sitting Michael Morse (2-for-17 with one walk and no extra base hits) in favor of Layce Nix, who will bat eighth.  Rookie catcher Wilson Ramos (5-for-10) is in the lineup as expected, as he is alternating days with Ivan Rodriguez for the first dozen or so games, but he's been pushed up into the No. 5 hole, occupied by Morse the first five games of the season.
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STARTING LINEUPS
 
NATIONALS:  Desmond-6, Werth-9, Zimmerman-5, LaRoche-3, Ramos-2, Ankiel-8, Espinosa-4, Nix-7, Lannan-1.
MARLINS:  Coghlan-8, Infante-4, Ramirez-6, G.Sanchez-3, Morrison-7, Buck-2, Helms-5, Bonifacio-9, J.Johnson-1

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.
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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).


Washington Nationals (1-3, 5th NLE) v. Florida Marlins (2-2, 4th NLE)
7:10 pm, Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL
Livan Hernandez (0-1, 2.84) v. Chris Volstad (12-9, 4.58 in 2010)
Weather: Partly sunny, 75 degrees.
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The Nats and Marlins face off in the middle game of the three game set, and today's big news was supposed to be Ian Desmond being moved from the leadoff spot to the seventh place in the order, switching with rookie second baseman Danny Espinosa, who would take over the No. 1 spot. 
 
But earlier this afternoon, Manager Jim Riggleman changed his mind again, deciding to keep Desmond, who is 0-for-13 with just one run scored to start the season, in the top spot in the order.
 
It's a curious decision, the back-and-forth.  When the Nationals traded Nyjer Morgan -- and his career .360 OBP against right-handed pitchers -- at the end of spring training, they found themselves without a prototypical high on-base percentage/good speed type of leadoff hitter.  Neither Desmond, with his career .303 OBP, nor Espinosa, with his proclivity for striking out, really fits the bill.
 
When the team inserted Desmond in the leadoff spot after the trade, both Riggleman and GM Mike Rizzo said publicly that they wouldn't ask Desmond to change his approach at the plate just because he was leading off.  This was neither realistic nor practical.  Desmond is a hacker by nature, and he ranked fourth lowest in the National League last season in pitches per plate appearance (of batters with 400-plus appearances).
 
Until the Nats can find someone that will take pitches and reach base ahead of Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman they will continue to struggle scoring runs consistently.  Desmond will apparently get further opportunity to show he can be that player, but he will have to change his approach to do so.
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NATIONALS:  Desmond-6, Werth-9, Zimmerman-5, LaRoche-3, Morse-7, Ankiel-8, Espinosa-4, Rodriguez-2, Hernandez-1
MARLINS:  Coghlan-8, Infante-4, Ramirez-6, Sanchez-3, Morrison-7, Buck-2, Murphy-5, Bonifacio-9, Volstad-1

Strange things seem to happen when the Washington Nationals play the Florida Marlins, usually with the Nats on the wrong end of things.  You can add another chapter to that story, as a dropped routine pop-up in the bottom of the tenth inning came around to score, handing the Nats their third loss in four games to start the season.

Drew Storen cruised through a scoreless ninth inning, pumping 95 MPH fastball past Marlins hitters.  Manager Jim Riggleman asked Storen to come back out for the tenth, and that's where things got untracked.

Leadoff hitter Omar Infante took a defensive swing at another heater in on his hands after a great sequence of pitches by Storen, and lofted a harmless pop fly to very short right field.  Second baseman Danny Espinosa floated back and camped underneath of it to make the catch.  For some reason, Jayson Werth felt like he needed to make the catch and called the rookie off.

But in doing so, Werth broke his own concentration and tried to make a running, basket catch.  The ball kicked off the heel of his glove and fell safely to the grass.

If you've been a Nats fan for any length of time, you know what comes next.

Storen, clearly shaken, started Hanley Ramirez off with a ball, then threw an outside fastball that catcher Wilson Ramos couldn't handle and Infante went down to second.  The Nats then took the bat out of Ramirez' hands to face 1B Gaby Sanchez.  Storen got to 1-2 quickly on Sanchez, but the Marlin fought off a tough couple of pitches to get to 3-2 before singling to left, loading the bases.

At that point Riggleman summoned Sean Burnett, who got lefty Logan Morrison to fly out to short center with the Nats deploying five infielders, then struck out catcher John Buck.  But Burnett's luck didn't hold out, as backup infielder Donnie Murphy lined a single to left on an 0-1 count to end the game.

Storen deserved better.  He had his best fastball going, combined with a slider that broke late and hard.  He made his pitch on the 2-2 count to Infante and his defense let him down.

Nats starter Jason Marquis deserved better too.  He was sharp in his 6 1/3 innings, allowing just two earned runs on six hits and no walks, striking out two.  He threw 78 pitches, 54 for strikes.  He was relieved by Tyler Clippard in the seventh and Clippard could not strand Marquis' last baserunner, which tied the game at two at that point.

The Nats scored a run in the top of the first on a two-out single fly by Michael Morse and another in the third on Ryan Zimmerman's first home run of the season.
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THE GOOD:  Jason Marquis.  His first start of the season could not be described as scintillating, but he did his job, keeping the ball down in the zone and generating ground ball outs (11 GO-5 FO).

THE BAD:  Werth's error.  That play has to be made.  HAS TO.  It was a routine pop-up when the pitcher made his pitch in extra innings.  These are the things we were told weren't going to happen again.

THE UGLY:  We're already seeing Ryan Zimmerman being pitched around, and it's only the fourth game of the season.  He was walked three times sandwiched around his solo home run and in the three walks combined he saw one strike total.  That's being pitched around, my friends.  The only times the Marlins came after him were when he led off innings twice.

THE STATS:  Eight hits, seven walks.  1-for-8 with RISP; 12 LOB.  Two errors (Zimmerman-1, Werth-1).

NEXT GAME:  Wednesday v. Florida Marlins at 7:10 pm.  Livan Hernandez (0-1, 2.84) v. Chris Volstad (0-0, 0.00)

NATS NOTES:  Jerry Hairston played second base and led off for the Nats.  He went 0-for-4, extending the hitless streak at the No. 1 spot in the order to four games and 16 at bats.

Rick Ankiel went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, but did walk twice.  He's now 1-for-12 on the season with five strikeouts; his only hit was home run in the Nats win last Saturday.

The Nats had a potential run wiped out when Jerry Hairston and third base coach Bo Porter crossed signals when Hairston rounded third trying to score on Werth's double to the left field corner in the eighth inning.  Hairston tried to apply the brakes when he saw Porter's stop sign, but it was much too late and Hariston was a sitting duck.