Bullpen struggles send Nats to first loss of season, 4-3 in 10

A marathon game that included more than two hours of rain delays, back-and-forth bullpen blow-ups and then extra innings ended with a first for the Nationals this season: a loss.

Justin Bour’s two-out double off Joe Blanton in the top of the 10th brought J.T. Realmuto all the way around from first to score the run that gave the Marlins a wild 4-3 victory at Nationals Park, a frustrating end to a frustratingly long day and night at the ballpark for the previously unbeaten home club.

Despite late home runs from Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman that put the Nationals in prime position for a sweep of their season-opening series, their bullpen was unable to secure the necessary outs to complete that sweep. Relievers Shawn Kelley, Sammy Solís, Blake Treinen and Blanton combined to give up four runs in the final three innings.

The winning run was scored off Blanton, who surrendered a two-out single to Realmuto and then the go-ahead double to Bour, who poked his double just down the left field line, bringing his teammate home without a play at the plate.

Shawn-Kelley-throwing-white-sidebar.jpgThat was merely the final big hit in a flurry of them late in this game.

Treinen surrendered the game-tying single to former teammate Tyler Moore in the top of the ninth. That came shortly after Zimmerman’s replay-reviewed homer in the bottom of the eighth made up for the game-tying homer Kelley served up to Realmuto in the top of that frame.

The ninth inning rally began with Solís on the mound; the lefty quickly put two men on but induced a key double play out of speedster Dee Gordon. Once the right-handed Moore was announced as Miami’s pinch-hitter, Dusty Baker summoned Treinen from the bullpen, seeking the final out of the game with the tying runner 90 feet away.

Treinen’s 2-2 sinker to Moore, though, was up and over the plate, and Moore (who lost his job with the Nationals in large part because of his pinch-hitting struggles) shot it back up the middle to drive in the run that made this a 3-3 game.

Prior to that, it looked like Zimmerman would be the star of the day after he launched his second homer in 24 hours: a bullet just to the left of center field that caromed off the top of the concrete wall that sits behind the padded fence in that section of the ballpark. Second base umpire Jerry Meals ruled it in play at first, and Zimmerman raced into third base. But a crew chief review confirmed what most suspected, that the ball had cleared enough to be ruled a home run, and so Zimmerman was allowed to trot the remaining 90 feet and give the Nats the lead back.

The Nationals held a 2-0 lead in the eighth, thanks to Gio Gonzalez’s impressive season debut, home runs from Adam Eaton and Werth and a scoreless inning of relief from Koda Glover. But that lead disappeared when Kelley walked Christian Yelich to open the eighth and then served up a two-run homer to Realmuto three batters later.

It was the first time the Nationals bullpen has blown a lead in this young season, and it left a decidedly sour taste in the mouths of the few hearty souls from the original crowd of 19,418 who stuck it out through two rain delays totaling 2 hours, 23 minutes.

The mood was much brighter when Gonzalez was pitching earlier. The lefty, in his season debut, tossed six scoreless innings to produce the Nationals rotation’s third straight quality start.

Gonzalez was coming off a dominant spring, one in which he consistently got quick outs and pitched with the kind of efficiency the Nationals desperately were hoping would carry over into the regular season. From the outset today, it was clear that would indeed be the case.

Gonzalez cruised through the top of the first, throwing his first nine pitches for strikes and punching out Giancarlo Stanton with a changeup to end the inning. He kept it going throughout the game, never tossing a 1-2-3 frame but making big pitches when he needed to and escaping a couple of harrowing jams thanks to a pair of double-play grounders.

All told, Gonzalez scattered seven singles over his six innings, throwing 90 pitches in total, before the second rain delay struck and ensured his outing was finished.

The Nationals held a slim 1-0 lead at that point, having jumped out in front early on Eaton’s blast and then failed to take advantage of opportunities to expand the lead.

Eaton pounced on Tom Koehler’s first-pitch fastball in the bottom of the first, sending the ball flying over the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field for his first Nationals homer and raising his on-base percentage to .667, having successfully reached six times in nine plate appearances.

The Nationals squandered Zimmerman’s leadoff double in the second, then a bases-loaded rally in the third that ended when Zimmerman grounded into a double play. All told, they went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position in five innings against Koehler.

Werth, though, provided what looked like a big insurance run in the bottom of the seventh, when he took reliever Kyle Barraclough deep into the left field bullpen for his first homer of the season. That also was the first homer Barraclough has surrendered to a right-handed batter in 180 major league at-bats.

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