Nats shut out again by Marlins

Nats shut out again by Marlins
September 9, 2012, 10:43 pm
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It was only 12 days ago when Ricky Nolasco was handed the ball by Ozzie Guillen to face the Nationals and didn't give it back to his manager until he had completed a five-hit shutout.

When the 29-year-old right-hander was again handed the ball by Guillen on Sunday afternoon, members of the Nationals certainly were familiar with his repertoire and though that would have played to their advantage.

"Normally, I would say yes," Adam LaRoche said. "But I guess not in this case."

No, not at all. Nolasco didn't just enjoy another successful outing against the Nationals. He shut them out again, this time allowing a scant four hits while once again going the distance during an 8-0 throttling of the previously red-hot, best team in baseball.

"He did the exact same thing," LaRoche said. "He was the exact same pitcher. We knew what we getting. We knew what he has. He just locates to the point that you look up and its 0-2, 1-2 in your at-bat and you're grinding. Tip your hat to him. He did a great job."

It would be one thing if this appeared to be a downward trend for the Nationals lineup, except that doesn't appear to be the case at all. After Nolasco's previous gem in South Florida, the Nationals proceeded to score 84 runs over their next 11 games.

Then came Sunday's series finale, when they didn't produce a hit off Nolasco -- owner of a 2.75 ERA against Washington this year, 4.79 against everyone else -- until the fifth and didn't put two men on base in the same inning until the ninth.

"The guys say when he wants to, he's one heck of a pitcher," manager Davey Johnson said.

It didn't help that Johnson fielded a lineup minus two key regulars: Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond. Zimmerman was given a rare day off; Desmond asked out to give his lingering hamstring strain a rest.

Truth be told, the Nationals might have missed those players' presence in the field more than at the plate, especially Desmond.

With Danny Espinosa shifted to shortstop and Steve Lombardozzi taking over second base, Johnson sacrificed some range up the middle. That proved costly when the Marlins rapped out three consecutive, two-out, groundball singles up the middle to ignite a second-inning rally.

None of the grounders made for an easy play, but it was hard not to think Desmond at shortstop and Espinosa at second base might have had a better chance to snag at least one of them.

"No doubt. No doubt," Johnson said. "But those guys out there can play, too. Espi's played a great short, Lombo a great second. Those were just some well-placed balls, hard-hit."

The seeing-eye singles proved especially costly moments later, when Nolasco stepped to the plate and lofted a flyball to deep center field. Bryce Harper had to run a long way but was in position to make the catch, only to lose the ball in the sun at the last second and watch it fall harmlessly to the ground for a gift, two-run double.

That wasn't the only time the sun wreaked havoc with outfielders on Sunday. Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton also missed a routine flyball, and center fielder Justin Ruggiano nearly did as well before recovering in time to make the catch.

"It was just a big, bright blue sky, with a very large sun," Jayson Werth said. "It's hard to explain. If you're not out there every day, you wouldn't even notice. But it was tough to see, no question."

The three runs Miami scored in the top of the second weren't much the fault of Edwin Jackson, but the Nationals starter (celebrating his 29th birthday) didn't enjoy a strong afternoon. He let three more runs score later and wound up getting pulled with only two outs in the fifth, having been charged with six earned runs on nine hits, two walks and a hit batter.

"I've just got to do a better job of making pitches out of the stretch with men on base," Jackson said, "a better job of damage control."

By the time Jackson departed, the damage was done. When Stanton launched his 10th homer in 20 career games on South Capitol Street in the top of the seventh, the Nationals trailed by a touchdown.

By day's end, their offense never even advanced into the Red Zone.

Thus made for something of an awkward scene in the clubhouse, the laughter and playfulness that usually comes on the day veterans make rookies dress up for a train ride to New York -- this year's costume: leotards made to look like those worn by the U.S. Olympics women's gymnastics team -- offset by the sting of a lopsided loss and the realization their lead over the Braves in the NL East is down to 5 12 games with 22 to play.

"I don't look at it as we beat ourselves today; we got beat," LaRoche said. "We caught a good pitcher on his game, we were a little bit off ours. Overall it wasn't a sloppy game, it was just good old butt-whupping."