MIAMI - The Nationals' 7-4 loss to the Florida Marlins on Wednesday night didn't play out in the same kind of forehead-slapping fashion as Tuesday's 3-2, 10-inning loss. The Nationals buit a 4-0 lead on the Marlins, then Livan Hernandez walked a couple batters, gave up a big three-run triple to John Buck and the Marlins just sort of pulled away after that, like a distance runner lengthening his lead over a tiring opponent late in a race.
These kinds of losses to the Marlins happen with just as much regularity as the dramatic ones, and the number we've repeated a half-dozen times this week - the Nationals' record against the Marlins since the start of 2008 - got another game worse. Washington is now 14-41 against Florida since 2008, and it seems like nothing the Nationals do against the Marlins is enough to put a game away.
"You have to start feeling that you've got to put these guys away when you have an opportunity," manager Jim Riggleman said. "They've had their way with us for a couple years now. There's nothing to do but battle your way out of it and bust open a ballgame to where they can't come back."
In three of their five wins against the Marlins last year, the Nationals either won by more than five runs or held them to a single run, limiting their chances to rally. And of their last 15 losses against Florida, the Nationals have blown leads in six of them.
Here are the awards from last night's game:
Ian Desmond (at the plate): Given a day off Tuesday to get a break from his 0-for-13 season-opening slump, Desmond needed all of one pitch to end it. He doubled off Chris Volstad to start the game, and wound up with four hits in five at-bats, including two RBIs. One of those came on a perfectly-placed bunt single in the second inning. He only saw 12 pitches in five at-bats, far below what you'd like from a leadoff hitter, but he also had the first productive game at the plate the Nationals have had in the spot.
Rick Ankiel: He hasn't been likely to draw walks in his career - Ankiel has only done it in 8.2 percent of his plate appearances - but he's done a good job of getting on base early this season. Ankiel went 1-for-3 with a walk on Wednesday, and now has four walks in five games. He's only hitting .133, but has a .316 on-base percentage.
Todd Coffey: He pitched to five batters in the eighth inning, retiring two of them, walking two and giving up a hit before Doug Slaten relieved him. Coffey has an 11.57 ERA in three appearances this year, and on his way off the mound, Coffey got ejected for arguing with home plate umpire Tim Tschida.
Chad Gaudin: The Nationals have either been ahead or in the game when their bullpen has taken over, so Gaudin has been used in more of a situational role than in long relief so far this season. It's quickly becoming apparent that he's not cut out for that. He allowed two runs (though only one was earned) in two innings, though he did strike out four batters.
Desmond (on the bases and in the field): The good things Desmond did at the plate were counteracted in some ways by what he did on the bases. He made a fundamental mistake in the first inning, when he tried going from second to third on a ground ball in front of him, and was thrown out in a rundown. And in the second inning, he advanced from second to third on Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly, nearly getting thrown out at third for the final out of the inning before Ivan Rodriguez could cross home plate. He also made an error in the sixth inning when Hanley Ramirez's hard hopper ate him up and Chris Coghlan scored as he bobbled the ball.
In Case You Missed It:
Riggleman made an odd double switch in the eighth inning with the Nationals down two runs, putting in Alex Cora for Danny Espinosa as he put Coffey in the game. That made Cora the ninth hitter, due up second in the bottom of the ninth, and meant Matt Stairs likely wouldn't get an at-bat against Marlins closer Leo Nunez. Riggleman could have left Espinosa in the game, put Coffey in the ninth spot and pinch hit for him with Stairs there. The only reason to get Coffey out of the batting order was if the Nationals planned for him to pitch two innings. And if they had somehow taken the lead in the top of the ninth, they'd be calling for Sean Burnett anyway. It took an at-bat away from Espinosa, and meant the Nationals couldn't use Stairs in the matchup they wanted him to get: an at-bat against a right-handed closer.
And we saw again why Hernandez needs to get strike calls on the corners of the plate to be effective. He only threw 49 strikes in 97 pitches, walking five batters. Hernandez said he felt like his control was fine, and the balls were mostly a case of the Marlins not swinging when he tried to work down in the zone. It's pretty simple with Hernandez: He's going to pitch how he wants to pitch, which is by painting the corners of the plate, particularly with his breaking balls, and if an umpire isn't feeling cooperative, he's going to walk hitters instead of coming over the plate. When he gets an umpire with a generous strike zone, he can be dazzling. When he doesn't, he can find trouble.
The big one on my mind this morning is this: How worried are you about the bullpen? Would you be on the phone to Syracuse on Sunday, as soon as call-ups are available, or does this group need more time?
Leave your answers in the comments section, and let me know what you think.