The Nationals came into Friday's game with the Marlins feeling as good about themselves as they have since Davey Johnson took over as manager. They had won five straight, and swept a four-game series in New York - which qualifies as a significant achievement, considering how bad they've been on the road in the last few years.
And all of that got scuttled, at least for a night, because their pitcher didn't spot his fastball and they couldn't hit an opposing starter who did.
While John Lannan left a handful of pitches up in the strike zone in the first three innings, allowing the Marlins to score three runs on the Nationals, Javier Vazquez sliced through Washington's lineup with little more than an efficient fastball, throwing his four-seamer 62 times and his two-seamer another 22, in his 104-pitch shutout of the Nationals. The Marlins won 3-0, and stopped the Nationals' win streak at five.
Vazquez, who held the Nationals to a run in seven innings in July, won with the kind of start Lannan would've loved to have. He commanded his fastball all night, getting ahead of Nationals hitters and striking out seven batters against a lineup that didn't have Michael Morse or Jayson Werth. Lannan, meanwhile, couldn't get his sinker to the corners of the plate early, and gave up three runs between the second and third innings. He rallied for three scoreless innings to finish the night, but the Nationals couldn't do enough against Vazquez to make it matter.
"He sometimes overthrows," manager Davey Johnson said. "I like it when he's using that sinker and not trying to overthrow it. He gets a lot of ground balls. And when you see a lot of line drives to the outfield, whatever, it's jumping on fastballs up."
Lannan lost for the second consecutive start, dropping his record to 9-13 on the season. For the third time in four years, he's sitting at nine wins in September. He's got two more shots to get his 10th win for the first time.
"I can only control what I can control, and that's going out there and giving the team a chance to win," Lannan said. "The wins are going to come. Even though that 10th win would look good, you've just got to go out there and keep doing what you're supposed to do."
If the Nationals would have been able to do anything against Vazquez, they might have been able to make Lannan's scrambling six innings stand up. But it took little more than a fastball to sap their momentum on Friday.
"He didn't make any mistakes," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We could have jumped on some of his pitches early in counts, but when you're down, you're a little hesitant to do that. We kind of got caught in the middle, I think. We had some situations where we could have scored some runs, but he pitched lights-out."