Alcantara dominates Nats while Sanchez struggles early in loss (updated)

MIAMI – It’s been all or nothing at all lately for the Nationals. They won by five-run and seven-run margins in their two victories over the last week. They then failed to score more than two runs in any of their four losses.

On Sunday, they ran into a red-hot Justin Verlander, who held them scoreless over five innings in an eventual 8-0 loss. On Monday night, it was the Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara who kept the Nationals bats quiet while handing down an 8-2 loss in front of 6,601 at loanDepot Park.

So now that makes no more than two runs scored in each of their last five losses.

The evening actually started off well for the visiting side. César Hernández greeted Alcantara with a leadoff single in the top of the first and would eventually come all the way around to score on an RBI single from Yadiel Hernandez (filling the designated hitter role after Nelson Cruz was scratched from the lineup with an illness) for a quick 1-0 lead.

That would be all the Nats could muster off Alcantara.

The 26-year-old would go on to hold the Nationals to one run over eight innings, allowing only three hits (all in the first inning), one walk and two hit batters on 100 pitches, 71 for strikes. He used his 97 mph fastball (which also touched 100 mph), 97 mph slider and 91 mph changeup to cruise through the Nats order while inducing 12 swings and misses.

“His changeup was good. Located his changeup really well," manager Davey Martinez said of Alcantara. "He gets ahead of hitters, he throws strikes. He's a good pitcher. But we had him early. Our plan early was to lay off the changeups, to get the ball up. We got some opportunities. We couldn't cash in.

“He's throwing strikes. You can't sit there waiting. It's tough to hit one. It's really tough to hit with two strikes. So when guys are throwing strikes like that, you got to be aggressive.”

Alcantara finished off his outing by retiring 20 straight Nationals from the last two outs of the second inning through the end of the eighth.

“Whenever we swing out of the strike zone, it makes him really good,” said Juan Soto, who went 0-for-4 on the night.

“He was having good pitches, he was making his pitches in the right place. But he was sometimes he was missing the strike zone and we kept swinging at it. We just got to stay more calm and try to make swings to the good pitches. I think he got very good stuff. But he was gonna live off the strike zone today. And we just helped him out.”

On the other side of the hill, Nationals starter Aaron Sanchez started off efficiently in the first and then lost control.

After a nine-pitch bottom of the first inning, Sanchez returned to the mound to get shelled by the Marlins lineup in the bottom of the second. He struck out Garrett Cooper to start the frame, but fell apart from there, surrendering a home run to Avasaíl García, a walk to Brian Anderson and then four consecutive hits before finally getting out of the inning, his team down 4-1.

“Yeah, the first was great. And then after that, he lost his ability to locate fastballs," said Martinez. "He started getting a lower place, he tried to go back to try to go through his secondary pitches. And he couldn't he couldn't get them off the plate. So and then, the balls got up on him. And they started hitting.”

"I wish I could place better at the bottom of the zone," Sanchez said. "All night I was living middle to middle-up, and in the big leagues that's not going to work. I still had movement, I still had sink, but when it's high, it's sinking right back into the middle zone, and that's when my pitches get crushed. And that's kind of what happened."

Carl Edwards Jr. entered with two outs in the fourth to relieve Sanchez, who ended the day with a final line of 3 2/3innings, eight hits, four runs, three walks (one intentional), two strikeouts and one home run on 74 pitches, 46 strikes.

Edwards pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to try to keep the game close, but things went off the rails in the seventh for Austin Voth and Victor Arano.

Voth gave up back-to-back singles to Jacob Stallings and Jazz Chisholm Jr. to start the seventh, leaving Martinez to call upon Arano to get out of the jam. Arano would give up a single to Jesús Aguilar to load the bases and set up the ensuing chaos.

Jorge Soler, who hit three balls at 111 mph, 112.7 mph and 113.2 mph tonight, sent a rocket off Dee Strange-Gordon’s glove at shortstop, plating two. Lane Thomas, playing left field with Yadiel Hernandez the DH, threw the ball home to try to prevent the second run from scoring, but his throw sailed wide and Keibert Ruiz couldn’t track it down, and play was finally scored an E7.

But then Arano picked up the ball and tried to throw out Soler advancing to second, sailing it high and wide for an E1, allowing another run to score and Soler to move to third.

“He just rushed," Martinez said of Arano's errant throw to second. "I mean, he's dead out if he throws it right on the base. But he tried to rush and the ball just sailed. Those things happen, especially when a pitcher doesn't really work on those kinds of things. So he had more time than he thought he had. He didn't gather himself and threw the ball away.”

Thomas would get an RBI single in the top of the ninth that looked like it hit off his foot first. Marlins manager Don Mattingly wanted the umpires to check it, but they didn't.

It was inconsequential.

The short outing by the starting pitcher and late sloppy play aside, the Nationals had nothing going against Alcantara, who showed off his incredible stuff during a dominant performance. Sometimes you have to just tip your cap to the other guy.

It’s just unfortunate for the Nats that they’ve been tipping their caps a lot lately.

“I've seen signs where this team is good and I really believe we're gonna be good," said Martinez. "So we want to refresh now. One, we're facing some pretty good pitching and two, we just can't beat ourselves. They jumped ahead 4-1, but we kept it there for a while. And I thought we actually had a chance to come back if we keep it there. And things got out of hand there late in the innings. But we got to come back tomorrow and play again tomorrow. And like I said, start from the first inning, the first batter and try to score early or score first and go from there.”

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