Gray, top three relievers combine to shut out Padres (updated)

gray pitches blue

SAN DIEGO – How’s this for a formula for success on a lovely Saturday evening at Petco Park: Get two early solo homers from your power-starved lineup, then ask your pitching staff to shut out the Padres’ potent bats the rest of the way?

OK, so that may not have been Davey Martinez’s preferred plan entering the day. Given his team's major league worst minus-44 home run differential entering the day, why would it have been? But as this game proceeded, it became clear this would be the only way the Nationals were going to emerge victorious.

And when they pulled it off, topping the Padres 2-0 behind some of the best pitching they’ve seen all year, it felt as sweet as any of their previous 28 victories this season.

"That," Martinez said, "was a good one."

Jeimer Candelario and Lane Thomas provided the early offense, with Candelario homering in the first and Thomas homering in the third to give their team the lead. Josiah Gray turned in 5 1/3 scoreless, if not exactly efficient, innings to maintain that two-run lead. And then Martinez entrusted the game’s final 11 outs to the three remaining healthy relievers he trusts in high-leverage spots: Mason Thompson, Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey.

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Kuhl designated for assignment, Espino recalled from Triple-A

kuhl sad blue

SAN DIEGO – The Nationals parted ways with Chad Kuhl today, designating the struggling right-hander for assignment and recalling Paolo Espino from Triple-A Rochester to take his roster spot.

The club had been hoping Kuhl might turn things around as a long man in their bullpen, but the 30-year-old was in a sustained rut, his ERA climbing to 8.45 following a four-run appearance during Friday night’s blowout loss to the Padres.

The move was particularly tough for manager Davey Martinez on a personal level, given how much the Nationals have done to help Kuhl’s wife, Amanda, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. The Kuhls established the “Cancer Isn’t Kuhl” campaign in April in partnership with Washington Nationals Philanthropies and have raised tens of thousands of dollars for breast cancer treatment and research since.

“The toughest part of my job is letting guys go when you start building these relationships with them,” Martinez said. “It’s hard. I know he gave it his all. It just didn’t work out.”

Initially signed to a minor league contract in January, Kuhl came to big league camp this spring and earned a spot in the Opening Day rotation after top prospect Cade Cavalli needed Tommy John surgery. A six-year major league veteran with the Pirates and Rockies, he struggled from the get-go and had a 9.41 ERA in five starts before landing on the 15-day injured list with a foot ailment.

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Game 76 lineups: Nats at Padres

josiah gray pitches grey

SAN DIEGO – The Nationals’ lineup is in a bad place right now. That group has averaged 3.3 runs, 8.6 hits and a measly 1.2 walks over the last 18 games, only three of which the team has won. So what’s the cure for an anemic offense? Maybe a rookie knuckleballer making his major league debut?

That’s the unusual situation the Nats find themselves in tonight, with the Padres giving the ball to right-hander Matt Waldron and hoping for the best. The 26-year-old (who throws a knuckleball about 50 percent of the time) was just 1-6 with a 7.02 ERA and 1.650 WHIP in 14 games at hitter-friendly Triple-A El Paso, but with Michael Wacha dealing with shoulder trouble, San Diego is giving him a chance to see what he can do in the big leagues for the first time. This feels like a game that is either going to go wonderfully or horribly for the Nationals, nothing in between.

Josiah Gray’s task tonight is keep the Padres lineup in the yard, something Patrick Corbin and the bullpen couldn’t do Friday. After showing significant progress in this department in April and May, Gray has fallen back into his old pattern from last season, serving up six homers in his last four starts, including two in five innings Monday against the Cardinals.

Speaking of the Nationals bullpen, there has been a roster change. Chad Kuhl was designated for assignment following another rough performance Friday night, and Paolo Espino has been recalled from Triple-A Rochester to take over as a long man in a bullpen that needs more reliable arms.

Where: Petco Park
Gametime: 8:40 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Clear, 67 degrees, wind 11 mph left field to right field

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Bats not forcing pitchers to work; Kuhl, Ward struggle again

kuhl pitches grey

SAN DIEGO – Very little went right for the Nationals on Friday night. Such is the case when you lose a game like they did, 13-3 to the Padres.

The focus of the game story was Patrick Corbin, whose fifth-inning meltdown turned a competitive game into a blowout. But the left-hander was far from the only reason the Nats were shellacked by San Diego.

The lineup once again did very little for most of the night. Through five innings, they managed three hits and failed to score a run. They did finally get to Joe Musgrove in the sixth on a two-out double by Jeimer Candelario and an RBI single by Joey Meneses. And then they scored two more runs in garbage time in the top of the ninth.

But most telling was Musgrove’s final line: seven innings, six hits, one run, zero walks, seven strikeouts, 90 pitches, 67 strikes.

The Nationals once again drew zero walks, a recurring problem that seems to be getting worse by the day. They’ve drawn a grand total of 22 walks over their last 18 games, barely more than one per game. They haven’t drawn more than two walks in a game since June 13 in Houston. They haven’t drawn more than three walks in a game since May 28 in Kansas City.

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Corbin gets whacked by Padres in blowout loss (updated)

corbin sad blue

SAN DIEGO – If there was one thing the Nationals could cling to as evidence of improvement from Patrick Corbin this season, it was the fact he has almost always pitched well enough to give his team a chance.

That’s admittedly a low bar for acceptable pitching performances. But the Nats had no choice but to set the bar low with Corbin, given his immense struggles the last three seasons. If he was at least doing enough to give them a chance to win, that would have to be considered a success, right?

What, then, to make of Corbin’s performance tonight, in which the left-hander most certainly did not give his team a chance during a 13-3 blowout loss to the Padres?

A six-run bottom of the fifth foiled whatever possibility remained for Corbin to leave the mound with the Nationals in a reasonable position. That frame included every manner of calamity, some of them not the left-hander’s fault but plenty of them still falling on his shoulders.

A four-run bottom of the seventh off Chad Kuhl, now the owner of an 8.45 ERA, didn’t help matters. Nor did the two-run homer Thaddeus Ward surrender to Juan Soto (who reached base four times in five plate appearances) in the eighth.

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After winding path, La Sorsa hopes to stick in D.C.

lasorsa pitches italy

SAN DIEGO – The path that ultimately brought Joe La Sorsa to the visitors’ clubhouse at Petco Park this afternoon was as follows: Montgomery, Ala., to Durham, N.C., to St. Petersburg, Fla., to DFA Purgatory to Rochester, N.Y., to Washington, where the left-hander spent barely more than 24 hours learning his new surroundings before hopping aboard the Nationals’ charter flight for a nine-game road trip that will take the team from San Diego to Seattle to Philadelphia.

“I haven’t really had more than a month any place. That’s pretty much been it,” La Sorsa said with a hint of both exasperation and appreciation. “But I feel very comfortable here. How I’ve been treated here, and everything with the Nationals so far is leaving a very good first impression.”

Plucked off waivers after the Rays designated him for assignment earlier this month, only two games into his big league career, La Sorsa made four relief appearances at Triple-A Rochester before getting the call to come to D.C. and replace the injured Carl Edwards Jr. in the Nats bullpen.

He didn’t appear in either Wednesday or Thursday’s game, but chances are he’ll make his debut sometime this weekend at Petco Park, perhaps thrown into the fire to face Juan Soto in a big spot late in a game.

Davey Martinez has been wanting a left-handed reliever for nearly two months now since the Anthony Banda experiment was aborted. He’s got one now in La Sorsa, an unassuming, mustachioed, 25-year-old rookie from Westchester County, N.Y., and St. John’s University.

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Game 75 lineups: Nats at Padres

corbin pitches blue

SAN DIEGO – A very pleasant evening to you from one of the most pleasant ballparks in America. Maybe the change in locations will be good for the Nationals, who just endured through a dismal, 1-6 homestand and continue to struggle like crazy in D.C, with a 13-27 record. The story has been much better on the road, where they’re actually 15-19. They better hope that trend continues since they now embark on a long, nine-game trip from San Diego to Seattle to Philadelphia.

The Padres were struggling to find their footing when they played at Nationals Park last month, and they’re still kind of stuck in that same spot, entering tonight’s series opener three games under .500, 9 1/2 games back and in fourth place in the National League West. Juan Soto, however, is feeling just fine, thank you very much. Over his last 14 games, the ex-Nat is batting a healthy .353/.453/.588.

It’ll be Patrick Corbin’s job to try to hold Soto and Co. in check tonight. Corbin didn’t face the Padres last month. He’s kind of in a strange place right now where he’s giving up a ton of hits (11 in two of his last three starts) but still keeping the damage to a relative minimum (3-4 runs).

Joe Musgrove gets the start for San Diego. After a brutal start to his season, he’s been much better, going 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA in his last five starts. A Nats lineup that has had all kinds of trouble scoring runs is going to have to figure out the veteran right-hander.

Where: Petco Park
Gametime: 9:40 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Clear, 67 degrees, wind 11 mph left field to right field

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More oddities and observations from Tuesday's loss


MacKenzie Gore and Victor Robles drew most of the attention Tuesday night, but there were plenty of other factors that contributed to the Nationals’ 9-3 loss to the Cardinals, their fifth straight in this homestand and 13th in their last 15 games overall. …

* Another weak offensive performance was mitigated only somewhat by two late runs scored to put a small dent into an already lopsided margin.

The Nats managed all of one run on four hits against Jordan Montgomery, who had won only one of his previous 12 starts but managed to dominate for seven innings this time. The other two runs came late against Drew VerHagen and Jake Woodford with the game already out of reach.

The Nationals’ average exit velocity off Montgomery was only 80.7 mph. They didn’t have one batted ball hit over 100 mph against the St. Louis left-hander. (For comparison’s sake, the average exit velocity off Gore was 95.4 mph, with eight balls hit at 100 mph or harder against him.)

Equally troubling was the continued lack of patience from the Nats. They drew only one walk in the game (by Stone Garrett). That’s the seventh straight game they’ve drawn two or fewer walks. They’ve drawn a grand total of 20 free passes over their last 15 games (13 of which they’ve lost).

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Nats' fifth straight loss includes dugout confrontation (updated)

MacKenzie Gore throwing blue home

The frustration of a team-wide slump that is now approaching three weeks reached what was perhaps an inevitable low point tonight, when MacKenzie Gore confronted Victor Robles in the Nationals dugout after the latter didn’t make a play on what looked like a routine fly ball to center.

The brief confrontation, which lasted only a few seconds and was relatively tame compared to more dramatic incidents widely remembered from that same dugout over the last decade and a half, was not the reason the Nationals lost the fifth straight game of this homestand, this one by the lopsided count of 9-3 to the Cardinals.

A lack of any sustained offense by the power-starved Nats lineup certainly played a key role. As did Gore’s struggles on the mound on a night the young left-hander gave up a pair of homers and five total runs across six innings. A blowup ninth inning that saw Hunter Harvey serve up a two-run homer and CJ Abrams airmail a throw to first only made things worse.

Suffice it to say, Davey Martinez would seem to have plenty on his plate right now, a number of issues that need to be fixed lest things spiral out of control for a rebuilding Nationals club that legitimately looked like it had turned a corner only 2 1/2 weeks ago but is now reeling from 13 losses in its last 15 games.

The manager's message after this loss, though, wasn't all that different from previous ones. He may have been frustrated by the loss and the factors that contributed to it, but he didn't see reason to publicly scold his team at the end of the night.

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Kieboom back on IL at Triple-A; lefties continue to struggle

Carter Kieboom blue throwing

Carter Kieboom’s path back to the major leagues has taken another step backward.

The oft-injured former first-round pick is back on the injured list at Triple-A Rochester, this time with a left oblique issue. He’s scheduled to undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the injury, Nationals manager Davey Martinez said.

This latest injury comes barely one month after Kieboom finally started playing every day at Rochester after a long recovery from Tommy John surgery. The 25-year-old third baseman missed all of the 2022 season, then remained at extended spring training throughout April while dealing with a shoulder problem.

After a four-game rehab stint at Double-A Harrisburg, Kieboom was activated off the IL and debuted for Rochester on May 9. In 26 games since, he hit .264 with six doubles, one triple, three homers, 18 RBIs, a .366 on-base percentage and .790 OPS.

“He’s worked really hard to get back to where he’s at,” Martinez said. “He’s had all these little nagging injuries. And then again, people don’t realize how tough it is to play every day (in) this game. It’s tough. When he’s not used to doing it for over a year and he’s playing every day, your body sometimes reacts to it. Hopefully this is just a minor setback and we can get him back on the field, because he’s been hitting the ball really well.”

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Game 72 lineups: Nats vs. Cardinals

gore home blue

The Nationals need a win. It doesn’t matter how they get it. It doesn’t matter who makes it happen. They just need to win a game for the first time since Thursday in Houston and for only the third time in their last 15 games.

There are multiple paths toward that outcome, but the best of them would be a top-notch start from MacKenzie Gore. The left-hander shut out the Astros over 5 2/3 innings in that aforementioned game Thursday evening. He faded a bit in the sixth, and with his pitch count rising, Davey Martinez decided not to push him any farther. But the performance was a good one, and the Nats would love to get something like that (or even better) tonight.

Jordan Montgomery is the Cardinals’ starter, and the lefty has been good this month with a 2.00 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 18 innings. The Nationals have been better against left-handers than right-handers this season, but that wasn’t true over the weekend against the Marlins. Martinez has his usual lineup for these matchups, with Stone Garrett in left field and batting fifth. Riley Adams gets the start behind the plate, with Keibert Ruiz sitting.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Cloudy, 77 degrees, wind 13 mph in from right field

RF Lane Thomas
2B Luis García
3B Jeimer Candelario
DH Joey Meneses
LF Stone Garrett
1B Dominic Smith
C Riley Adams
CF Victor Robles
SS CJ Abrams

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Looking at reasons for the Nats' June swoon


Not so long ago – 2 1/2 weeks, to be precise – the Nationals appeared to be making real progress.

With an 8-7 win over the Phillies on June 2, the Nats improved to 25-32 overall. They even owned a winning record over nearly one-quarter of a full season, going 20-19 after opening the year a dismal 5-13. They were on pace for a 71-win season, which would be a dramatic improvement from a 55-107 fiasco in 2022.

Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore were leading the pitching staff, each making a case for All-Star consideration. The lineup, while still lacking in the power department, was managing to string together rallies with some regularity, scoring six or more runs five times in a span of 11 games. Young potential cornerstones Keibert Ruiz, CJ Abrams and Luis Garcia were making positive contributions.

In that moment, it was fair for anyone who has watched this franchise’s decline from World Series champs to full-scale rebuild to wonder if the worst days of this painful process were now in the past.

Then the Nationals started losing. And losing more. And losing even more.

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Gray's home run problem resurfaces in Nats' latest loss (updated)

gray pitching red

As he impressed throughout April and May with the best sustained stretch of his young career, one question loomed over Josiah Gray: Could he continue to keep the ball in the yard all summer, avoiding the back-breaking home runs that spoiled his 2022 season?

Four starts into June, the initial answer to that question is not an encouraging one. Gray is serving up homers again, and this afternoon it cost him more than in any previous outing this year.

Despite early support from his teammates to the tune of a five-run lead, Gray gave it all back and more in an 8-6 loss to the Cardinals, the critical sequence coming in the top of the fifth when he surrendered back-to-back homers to turn a game the Nationals once controlled into yet another demoralizing loss.

"The offense has been phenomenal for me out there pitching. I can't applaud those guys enough," Gray said. "I've just got to be better and not squander a five-run lead."

The Nats’ 12th loss in 14 games differed from most that preceded it, because they actually hit well in this one. They jumped all over St. Louis starter Jack Flaherty, jumping out to a 5-0 lead after two innings and putting Gray in prime position to take care of the rest.

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Candelario returns to lineup after missing Sunday's loss

candelario gray hitting

Jeimer Candelario is back in the Nationals lineup this afternoon, and while that wouldn’t seem to be a dramatic change, for this particular lineup at this particular time, it is quite significant.

Candelario was scratched from the lineup Sunday about an hour prior to first pitch with a sore right thumb after getting jammed the previous evening. Michael Chavis, who was supposed to be filling in at first base for the day, shifted to third base, with Dominic Smith, who was supposed to have the day off, starting at first base after all.

The end result: The Nats managed only two runs on eight hits in a 4-2 loss to the Marlins, with Chavis going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and Smith going 0-for-4 with three groundouts to first.

Candelario may not be thought of elsewhere as a premier, middle-of-the-order bat, but he has become critical to the Nationals’ chances of scoring runs as this season has played out. His .788 OPS ranks second among all regulars on the club, behind Lane Thomas’ .822 mark. His 21 doubles rank third in the National League. And he has three Defensive Runs Saved at third base, providing steady play in the field since Opening Day.

His absence Sunday was noticeable.

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Game 71 lineups: Nats vs. Cardinals

gray pitching white

The season is nearly halfway complete. The All-Star break is three weeks away. And today, two of the worst teams in the National League open a three-game series, one of them expected, one of them definitely not expected.

The Nationals, as much as everyone would’ve liked to believe, remain at the bottom of the NL East, a position they have taken firm control over while dropping 14 of their last 18 games. But the Cardinals were not supposed to be at the bottom of the NL Central, owners of a 29-43 record this deep into the season.

Suffice it to say, both teams will enter this series feeling like they need to win two of three to right their respective ships. Only one can prevail. For the Nats to do it, they’re simply going to have to start scoring more runs. They’re averaging only 3.2 runs over their last 13 games, with a .275 on-base percentage and .367 slugging percentage. It’s tough to win games like that. Perhaps they can generate some offense (and especially be patient) against St. Louis’ Jack Flaherty, who has issued a league-high 43 walks in 73 2/3 innings.

Josiah Gray led the league in walks last season, and though it has remained an issue this year, he stepped up big-time with zero free passes in a seven-inning start last week in Houston. Gray did give up four runs, but he was pleased with his process throughout that game (if not the results themselves).

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 4:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 88 degrees, wind 11 mph right field to left field

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Thomas' All-Star case, Abbott's long layoff


It was something of a throwaway line from Davey Martinez during a postgame press conference that didn’t include many bright spots.

Minutes after his Nationals lost for the 14th time in 18 games overall, the sixth straight time against the Marlins, Martinez was mentioning Lane Thomas’ third-inning homer (which ultimately accounted for all of the team’s runs during the 4-2 loss) and how it was just the latest in an ongoing string of big hits by the starting right fielder.

“We talk about all these guys for the All-Star Game, right now Lane Thomas is possibly a guy that could make the All-Star team for us,” Martinez said. “He’s played that well.”

Lane Thomas, All-Star? It’s not a crazy thought.

Sunday’s performance left Thomas sporting a .287 batting average, 11 homers, 35 RBIs and an .822 OPS. That final number ranks 14th among all National League outfielders, so it’s not exactly elite. But it is solid, it’s far and away the best mark among all Nats regulars and it continues to rise.

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Nats swept by Marlins for second time this year (updated)


The ball made a loud sound off Stone Garrett’s bat, a 105-mph bullet, and headed in the air toward deep left-center. A Father’s Day crowd of 25,339 at Nationals Park that had little reason to get excited most of the afternoon briefly rose with the kind of anticipation you’d expect from such loud contact at a big moment in a ballgame.

And then everyone slinked back into their seats as Jonathan Davis hauled in the ball at the warning track to end the bottom of the sixth, the Nationals still trailing the Marlins by two runs. Garrett, who came about 20 feet shy of giving his team the lead, slammed his helmet in frustration as he arrived at first base.

"I thought it was gone off the bat," teammate Lane Thomas said. "I think he did, too."

"We thought once he hit it," manager Davey Martinez said, "it was going to be a different ballgame."

The feeling of frustration was mutual throughout the ballpark as the Nats slogged their way through yet another loss to the division foe that somehow has become their white whale.

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Candelario scratched, forcing further lineup tinkering

candelario slides

When the Nationals embarked on a 16-games-in-16-days stretch earlier this week, Davey Martinez began to map out scheduled days off for various members of his everyday lineup. The idea: Make sure everyone gets a break at some point, hopefully on a day when the pitching matchup is conducive to it.

So, Luis García sat Wednesday against Astros left-hander Framber Valdez. Joey Meneses sat Thursday against Houston right-hander Christian Javier. Keibert Ruiz sat Saturday against Marlins lefty Braxton Garrett. And today, Martinez planned to sit both Dominic Smith and CJ Abrams against Miami lefty Jesús Luzardo … until circumstances forced a late change.

“I planned these probably a week ago,” Martinez said. “We’ve had a tough go, all the day games, traveling. I wanted to try to give these guys some days off.”

Smith was due to sit for only the second time in 46 games, but the second time in eight days. In both cases, Michael Chavis was set to make the start at first base in his place, with Meneses remaining as designated hitter.

That plan, however, changed about an hour before first pitch when Jeimer Candelario was scratched from the lineup with a sore right thumb. The veteran third baseman is still available to pinch-hit, according to the Nationals.

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Game 70 lineups: Nats vs. Marlins

chavis tags cherry

The Nationals keep finding themselves in this position, needing a win to avoid a series sweep. This is actually the fifth time in their last six series they’ve lost the opening two games to an opponent. In three of the previous cases (Dodgers, Braves, Astros) they found a way to salvage a win in the finale. They never had a chance to do it in the fourth series, because the finale against the Diamondbacks was postponed due to hazardous air quality. (We’ll see how Thursday’s makeup game shakes out.)

So if the pattern holds true, the Nats will actually beat the Marlins this afternoon and avoid the sweep. Then again, they still haven’t beaten the Marlins this season in five tries, having been swept in Miami last month and now finding themselves in danger of it happening again today.

We’ve talked a lot about pitching throughout this rough stretch, but let’s not give the lineup a free pass. The Nationals have averaged only 3.3 runs, 8.2 hits and a paltry 1.4 walks over their last 12 games (of which they’ve won only two). So they’ve got to do a better job making Jesús Luzardo work today. The long-ago Nats prospect continues to be an enigma: Over his last six starts, he’s alternated between allowing five or more runs or only one run (including once against the Nats).

Patrick Corbin gets the start on the other side. He was solid against the Astros, allowing only two runs over five innings, though he did issue a whopping five walks. If he can hold Miami in check, Davey Martinez should be able to turn to his top relievers today.

Update: Jeimer Candelario was a late scratch from the lineup for undisclosed reasons. Michael Chavis will slide over to third base, and Dominic Smith (who was supposed to sit today) will start at first base.

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Bullpen availability looms large in another loss to Miami (updated)

Jake Irvin cherry blossoms

It takes a lot for the Nationals to beat the Marlins these days. Actually, no one can say for sure what it takes to beat the Marlins this season, because they’ve now had five opportunities to do it and have yet to emerge victorious.

You would think, though, most paths to success would include clutch hitting and quality relief pitching. The Nats got neither of those during today’s frustrating 5-2 loss to Miami.

A lineup that gave itself only a few chances to drive in runs did so only twice, stranding a runner in scoring position in three different innings. And Davey Martinez, whose bullpen was without the services of several arms typically used in high-leverage spots, watched as failed starter-turned-reliever Chad Kuhl made a mess of the decisive seventh inning and Rule 5 pick Thaddeus Ward surrendered two big insurance runs in the top of the ninth to put the game out of reach.

So it was the Nationals lost yet again to their plucky division rivals from South Beach. They are now 0-5 against them this season despite being outscored by only eight runs in total. And they’re an unfathomable 4-20 dating back to the start of the 2022 season.

"The thing is, it's almost like we've got to play perfectly," Martinez said. "And that's tough to do every night. If we don't chase, do some other things, the outcome might be a little better. We've got to keep playing hard. Get on base for the next guy. When we do that, we actually score a few runs."

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