The Nationals had gotten off to such a great start against the Marlins with their convincing 7-1 win on Friday evening, but seemed to have taken a huge step backward with a stinker the following night against Chris Volstad. The team seemed poised for a rebound in Sunday's matchup against the fish, given the teams propensity to avenge losses this season and John Lannan's reliable track record in such instances during seasons past.
Against Josh Johnson, one of the best pitchers in the National League, neither of these two things seemed to matter. The offense scored three runs or less for the seventh time in the last eight games and Lannan failed to last more than five innings for the third time this season as the Nationals lost 3-9 to Florida in the rubber game of the series.
Things seemed to be going the Nationals way in the early parts of the game when Ian Desmond sent a double down the left field line, bringing home Josh Willingham and putting Willie Harris on third. Then two batters later, John Lannan provided himself with some run support by earning his second RBI of the season and putting the Nationals up 2-0. After that the Nationals bats would go silent until the eighth inning when Ryan Zimmerman was brought home on an Adam Dunn single, but two runners were left stranded on an Ian Desmond strikeout.
On the mound, John Lannan seemed to be cruising and faced only seven batters through the first two innings. In the third inning he ran into trouble. After hitting the number eight batter, Brett Carroll, to lead off the inning, Lannan then walked the struggling Cameron Maybin. A
Gaby Sanchez single and Hanley Ramirez home run later, the game's momentum completely shifted in favor of the Marlins. Lannan then let the bottom of the order hurt him again in the fifth inning, when Dan Uggla, Ronny Paulino, Cody Ross, and Brett Carroll all got succesive hits to put the Marlins ahead 6-2. 88 pitches into the game, Lannan was removed in favor of long man Miguel Batista, who followed in suit by letting up another home run to Hanley Ramirez, giving the Marlins best hitter three home runs for the series.
Lannan, with the loss, moves to 1-2 on the season and has only thrown two quality starts out the six games he has appeared in. Against Florida, he relied heavily on his four seam and two seam fastballs, throwing them for 53 of his 88 pitches. He had trouble locating all of his secondary pitches, even one of his traditionally better pitches, the changeup. His biggest mistake, the home run to Ramirez, came on a changeup that he left hanging in the zone. While Lannan was one of the only Nationals pitchers that the team could rely on in past seasons, this season he currently seems to be one of the only pitchers that they can not count on. He is struggling mightily with left-handed hitters (.500 BAA) and seems more hittable than he has been in past seasons. While he will surely be allowed a few more starts to prove that he still belongs, once other pitchers start getting healthy like Wang and Detwiler, Lannan may find himself fighting for a spot in the rotation.
Josh Johnson, for his part, did his best to keep the Nationals from ever getting back in the game. Through six innings, Johnson let up only three hits, two of which came in the first two innings, and struck out eight Nationals hitters. The Nationals ended the series with 35 strikeouts against the Marlins pitching staff and allowed each of the Marlins' starters to record at least seven strikeouts a piece. Three of the Nats best hitters (Willingham, Desmond, Dunn) each had at least two strikeouts yesterday and while allowing the weaker Chris Volstad to dominate them the day before may have been more embarrassing, having the trend continue for a second day in a row may draw some concern for the team heading into their homestand this week.
To add to the pain, Brian Bruney was given a chance to work out his recent troubles in some garbage time at the end of the Marlins game, but instead may have just increased manager Jim Riggleman's anxiety at the thought of using him in future high leverage situations. After pitching a 1-2-3 seventh inning, Bruney reverted to his old ways in the eighth by walking three batters, allowing two hits, and letting another run score. For the season, Bruney now has a WHIP of 2.308 and a BB/9 of 10.4, both well above his career averages and way worse than anything the Nationals had expected from him when they aquirred him to be their set-up man from the Yankees this winter.
The Nationals fall to 13-12 on the season and are 1.5 GB Philadelphia. They start their homestand on Tuesday against Atlanta with Kenshin Kawakami (0-4, 5.48 ERA) on the mound for the Braves and Livan Hernandez (3-1, 0.87 ERA) toeing the rubber for the Nats.