Although they drew six walks, the Washington Nationals (57-47) could not manage a run against the Miami Marlins (53-53), who only needed one run against Stephen Strasburg and eventually won 3-0.
Strasburg (L, 7-9), who was much maligned before tonight for his 5.06 road ERA in 2014, silenced the critics with a great outing. He went seven innings, in which he gave up just one run on four hits and two walks, though he struck out only four. His lone mistake came in the sixth, when he hung a curveball to Giancarlo Stanton after longtime Nationals nemesis Jordany Valdespin singled. Stanton was thrown out attempting to stretch his double to a triple, but Valdespin scored to give Miami a 1-0 lead.
The Nationals certainly had their chances, but could not find a timely hit thanks in part to a weak bottom of the order. After Henderson Alvarez loaded the bases with no outs in the second, Danny Espinosa struck out, Nate McLouth lined out, and Strasburg grounded out to end the threat. All told, the Nats would strand 11 runners and go 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom half of the eighth, the Nationals certainly needed to keep the deficit at one in order to have a reasonable shot against Marlins closer Steve Cishek. But curiously, Manager Matt Williams chose to use Jerry Blevins, who has a 4.66 ERA on the season and struggled the previous night. Unsurprisingly, he surrendered a single to righty Reed Johnson, and then could not retire left-hander Christian Yelich, who doubled Johnson home to double the lead.
After Valdespin bunted Yelich to third, Williams rightly chose to pull Blevins. But he once again made the wrong call, putting the struggling Aaron Barrett in to face Stanton. Once again, things went as expected, as Stanton singled home another run before Barrett got two strikeouts to end the frame.
In the eighth inning of a one-run game, Williams chose to use, arguably, his two worst relievers. It was not for lack of options, either: Tyler Clippard had not pitched the day before, while Drew Storen got just one out on Monday and pitched once in the five days before that. As a new manager, Williams gets the benefit of the doubt in his bullpen management and many other areas, but tonight was perhaps the most glaring example yet of his misuse of relief pitchers.
In the ninth, the Nats put runners on first and second with two outs. Denard Span singled, and it seems likely that Ian Desmond would have scored from second on the hit if the Nationals had trailed by just one run. But instead, the hit loaded the bases as Desmond played it safe, and Anthony Rendon struck out to end the game.
This loss should not be pinned on Williams’s shoulders, but his decisions directly cost the Nationals two runs, which is concerning in its own right. The fact that it may have prevented the Nats from coming back is just a groan-worthy bonus.