While most of the focus was on the Washington Nationals' off-field activity last night, and their acquisition of closer Jonathan Papelbon from the Philadelphia Phillies, the Nats were in Marlins Park in Miami, dropping their fifth game against the Fish in seven meetings with their NL East rivals this season.
It was also the Nationals' seventh loss in the last ten games overall, which, combined with the New York Mets' third straight win, left them just 1.0 game up in the NL East. The good news?
The Nationals got both Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth back in the lineup last night, with the veteran infielder and outfielder finally returning to action after 39 and 60 games, respectively. Anthony Rendon returned to action recently as well, so the Nats are one player away from having their expected everyday lineup on the field.
The "bad news"? In spite of the fact that the trio combined for four hits in ten at bats, the Nationals' offense still struggled to score runs, though at least some of that had to do with the opposing pitcher on the mound.
"Couple of times, bases loaded and one out, couldn't get it done tonight," Matt Williams told reporters after the loss, "but overall, I thought some guys put together some good at bats, we just didn't come through with that one what we needed. Nonetheless, it's nice to see Jayson out there and Zim out there and Anthony back out there as well. Looks like they're seeing it fine and they're swinging okay."
Even on something of an off-night for the right-hander, who walked four in six innings in which he gave up four hits and one earned run, Marlins' ace Jose Fernandez managed to win his fifteenth game in 23 career starts in Miami's day-glo home, where the 22-year-old starter is still undefeated, at (15-0) with a 1.19 ERA and a .172/.230/.239 line against in 104 ⅔ innings pitched.
"Tonight, for me anyway, he wasn't controlling his fastball like he usually does," Williams said, when asked about facing Fernandez.
"So he threw a lot of breaking balls tonight. He got Jayson on one on the double play ball. We hit a couple of fastballs, but he wasn't throwing it exactly where he wanted to and gave us opportunities, we just couldn't get it done."
The double play off Werth's bat ended a big opportunity in the fifth, when the Nationals loaded the bases with one down on singles by Michael Taylor and Anthony Rendon and a walk by Yunel Escobar, but Fernandez got the ground ball he needed and an inning-and-rally-ending 5-4-3 to keep it close at 1-0 in the Nats' favor before his teammates rallied to tie it in the bottom of the frame and took the lead in the bottom of the sixth.
"Fernandez doesn't give you many opportunities," Williams said, "but we had one early that we could have broken the game open a little bit, we didn't come up with it."
Jordan Zimmermann was rolling through four scoreless innings, on an efficient 39 pitches, but back-to-back one-out singles by J.T. Realmuto and Ichiro Suzuki and a sac fly to right by Adeiny Hechavarria tied it up at 1-1 and the Fish rallied again in the sixth with three hits on Zimmermann's first three pitches and two runs on a Martin Prado single and an RBI groundout that put the Marlins up 3-1 after six.
"I had all three pitches working," Zimmermann told reporters.
"They were swinging early, a lot of first-pitch contact and I got some quick outs and was able to keep the pitch count down, and the sixth inning rolled around and three pitches, three hits and I have my hands full. I was able to get out of there with only two runs, which was good, but I just need to make a few better pitches in the sixth."
"They were aggressive early," Williams said of the Marlins' approach against Zimmermann.
"Four of their seven base hits up until that point were first-pitch fastball. And then when they got the guys on base they were ultra-aggressive, jumped on the first pitch."
Having things go south in a hurry, Zimmermann said, was frustrating considering how good a start he got off to.
"It happens," he said. "We weren't able to get any runs across on Fernandez. He's a great pitcher. I knew I had to keep it close and probably throw a pretty good game.
"Then you're down 3-1, so you know you're probably going to come out of the game, and try to score some runs there in the seventh inning, but weren't able to do it."
"When we have those opportunities," Williams said, "you've got to get a base hit to win a game. It didn't happen tonight, but we'll take those opportunities every day."