For the vocal contingent of Washington Nationals fans who dismissed their team’s previous two wins because they came against the Miami Marlins, a team once stuffed with future stars but since stripped to the studs, Sunday’s 9-6 victory at Nationals Park offered a counterargument.
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The biggest point — bigger than the Nationals playing the cleanest game they have in a long time, bigger than starter Erick Fedde’s five scoreless innings, bigger than anything else — was whom they did it against. The Nationals battered the Marlins’ de facto ace, Caleb Smith, who entered the game tied for the third-best ERA (2.38) in the majors. The left-hander had compiled his strong start by navigating some of baseball’s tougher lineups, including the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies (twice), while not once in his nine starts allowing more than three runs.
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“He’s really good,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said before the game. “We have to get him in the strike zone, and we have to get him up.”
They did, and they became the last team in baseball to string together a three-game winning streak while trimming their deficit in the National League East to nine games. The Nationals knocked Smith out after three innings, boosting his ERA to 3.05 with five runs
In the third, the Nationals’ offense looked every bit as dangerous as it had promised to be in spring training — just moments after the Nationals were poised to look every bit as futile as they had been in the season’s first month and a half. After two quick outs, Adam Eaton doubled and Anthony Rendon took an intentional walk, but Smith jumped ahead of Juan Soto 1-2. The Soto of two weeks ago might’ve struck out, might’ve killed the rally before it began. But the 20-year-old is now scorching at the plate in large part because he has shown the patience his manager has preached
Soto laid off three straight pitches, including a fastball just low, and worked a walk to load the bases. Back-to-back doubles by Howie Kendrick and Brian Dozier brought in four runs, extending a lead Kendrick built in the second with a leadoff solo home run
The Nationals’ 35-year-old utility infielder, whose positional flexibility and unexpected reliability was invaluable during the patchwork lineups of late April and early May, continued to be a lifeblood of the offense despite his gradual return to a reserve role. Kendrick finished 3 for 5 with three RBI, serving as the primary architect of a lead that ballooned and was insurmountable by the Marlins’ MLB-worst offense. The Marlins roughed up reliever James Bourque, who was making his MLB debut in the ninth inning, for four runs, but it was too late
[ Corbin finds cure to Nats’ bullpen woes: A shutout of Marlins ]
Miami briefly had Fedde on the ropes — the reliever is still stretching himself back into starter shape — but didn’t take advantage. Fedde worked with purpose early, throwing a pitch every 15 or so seconds, and withheld nothing. He showed his sinker, curveball, cutter and slider. In the first, his efficiency forced the Marlins’ No. 3 hitter, third baseman Brian Anderson, to seemingly purposefully step out of the batter’s box to slow him down. Then, on the first pitch, Anderson flied out to center
In the third, Fedde got into a jam with his curveball — which was mostly effective but, just then, had been smacked down the first base line by Harold Ramirez for a double — and he got out of it with one, too. After Fedde intentionally walked Anderson to load the bases, Neil Walker waved helplessly at a low curve as the Nationals right-hander wriggled free. Still, after throwing 21 of his first 29 pitches for strikes, he managed to find the zone on just 13 of 27 pitches in that inning
The next inning, instead of showing patience to find out whether a fatigued Fedde might wander into a mistake or two, the Marlins hacked. All three Marlins hitters flied out to center, two on 1-0 counts, and Fedde escaped having thrown eight pitches, setting himself up to get through the fifth, too. The Marlins had squandered perhaps their best chance to dig into the Nationals’ MLB-worst bullpen early
By the time the Marlins finally had, after the fifth, it was too late. The Nationals led 5-0 and, after a 24-minute delay brought on by sudden, torrential rain, the offense did not slow in the sixth. Michael A. Taylor doubled in a run. Rendon tripled in two more. Soto’s sacrifice scored another
The Marlins broke the seal in the eighth with a two-run homer by Walker, but his big hit had arrived five innings too late. That didn’t stop the Marlins from mounting another comeback, cutting their deficit to 9-6 with two outs in the ninth, but Wander Suero ultimately slammed the door. It was a resounding win for Washington, and yet it still didn’t feel as good as it should’ve
More on the Nationals:
Rizzo discusses Martinez, says ‘there’s plenty of blame to go around’
Nats ship Joe Ross to Fresno, call up right-hander James Bourque
Dave Martinez has been forced into what he’s least comfortable doing: Selling himself
Sam Fortier Sam Fortier is a sports reporter for The Washington Post. Follow
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