That the Nationals have been bulldozed by the Mets, Braves and Phillies this season doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Those three division rivals all entered the season with high hopes and currently find themselves in a pennant race.
That the Nats have also been ransacked by the Marlins, who don’t find themselves anywhere near contention, is both surprising and incredibly aggravating to a ballclub that isn’t used to suffering this kind of domination from a traditional division doormat.
Today’s 5-3 loss at steamy Nationals Park was only the latest in a half-season’s worth of losses to this team. The Nats are now a ghastly 1-10 against Miami this year, having been outscored 59-26.
And it’s not like the Marlins are doing this to anybody else. They’re 26-39 against the rest of the league, turning the Nationals into their personal punching bag.
"Today's a different day," manager Davey Martinez said, prior to today's game, which still produced the same result. "We've got to do the the things that we need to do to win, and control some of the things they're doing. And if we do that, any given day we'll win. I worry about the way we play, not what other teams are doing."
The formula has been established at this point. Miami gets quality and length from a dominant rotation, delivers enough clutch hits to take a lead, then watches its bullpen shut everything down late.
It happened again today when the Marlins jumped on Jackson Tetreault for four runs in four innings, when Daniel Castano allowed only one earned run over five innings and four relievers combined to shut out the Nationals the rest of the way.
Tetreault’s issue in his major league debut three weeks ago was a plethora of hits produced by a red-hot Braves lineup. His issue today was a lack of fastball command, leading to a whopping five walks in only four innings.
"When I constantly see a pattern of something that doesn't usually happen, you know that something's wrong." he said. "You've got to do your best to try to figure it out, and I wasn't able to today. To say that I'm disappointed in myself would be an extreme understatement."
The rookie had walked a total of five batters in his first three starts combined, so this was out of the ordinary for him. Tetreault just couldn’t keep the fastball from cutting too far away from right-handed hitters, ultimately throwing only 18-of-43 for strikes.
"We're going to hone in on why, but his ball was cutting today," Martinez said. "He couldn't figure out why. I think he was yanking; his extension might've been a little longer than normal. We'll take a look at it. All his misses weren't terrible, but they were misses."
Tetreault opened the game with a leadoff walk of Jon Berti. Two batters later, Jesus Aguilar drove a first-pitch fastball to left-center for a two-run homer and an early deficit for the Nationals.
Tetreault never would find his command, issuing two walks in the second, another in a third inning that also included a leadoff double from Garrett Cooper, then one more in a fourth inning that began with Nick Fortes’ leadoff triple. All told, the right-hander threw 84 pitches in four labored innings, only 44 of them strikes.
"Sometimes when he's a little off, his ball starts cutting, and it starts running to his glove side," said Tres Barrera, who has caught Tetreault for years in the minors and was behind the plate today. "But he rolled with the punches, man. He's always going to go out there and compete, no matter what his stuff is like. And he did that. Unfortunately, we gave up a couple runs there. But he'll bounce back, I know that."
The Nats defense didn’t do much to help the young starter out. They were officially charged with only one error while he was on the mound (Luis Garcia’s lackadaisical throw on a routine grounder to short) but there were several other sloppy plays in the field that prolonged innings and left the manager and coaching staff seething.
"I really thought he should backhand the ball instead, and set his feet and throw," Martinez said of the Garcia error. "He tried to catch it in front of him, and his feet were all wacky again, and then threw the ball away."
And yet, as ugly as it looked at times, the Nationals were still within striking distance all afternoon. They were aided in part some ugly defense from the Marlins, who were charged with three errors in the bottom of the second alone, two of them directly responsible for two runs scored off starter Castano.
It did require a clutch hit to drive those runners in, though, and that was supplied by Barrera, called up from Triple-A Rochester on Friday and put into the lineup today for his first start behind the plate of the season. The catcher showed a knack for hitting with runners in scoring position last year, with a .300/.500/.600 offensive slash line in 28 plate appearances. And when he delivered a single to left to drive in two runs in his first major league at-bat of 2022, he continued that trend.
"As a baseball player, those are positions you want to be in," Barrera said. "You think of those moments when you're in the cage and you try to stay within yourself, not try to get too big, use the big part of the field. The pressure's on the pitcher more than me at that point. He's got to make a pitch. I've been on the other end, being a catcher trying to call a pitch in those situations. I just try to stay relaxed and put a good at-bat together."
Juan Soto would add a solo homer in the sixth, taking Castano deep to the opposite field and knocking the Marlins lefty out of the game. But the Nationals fizzled after that, unable to string together enough hits in the late innings to complete the rally against a Miami club that continues to be an absolute nemesis this year.
"I think we've got to be more aggressive with our swings," Martinez said. "We're a good fastball-hitting team. I think this team has thrown a lot of breaking balls against us. We've got to be ready to hit the fastball, jump on the fastball and not sit and wait until we get two strikes. We've got to be more aggressive. That's how we score runs."