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Nationals 7-2 over Marlins: Bryce Harper haunts Tom Koehler's dreams

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Bryce Harper hit three home runs in three at bats against Miami Marlins starter Tom Koehler earlier this season, and he took the right-hander deep again tonight, with a 3-run blast in the fifth that lifted the Washington Nationals in what ended up a 7-2 win.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

5. No.33?: Doug Fister was reportedly compensated for giving new Nationals' closer Jonathan Papelbon the no.58. Fister's wearing no.33 starting tonight. Maybe it will change the 31-year-old right-hander's luck this season, though if it somehow helps him keep the ball down in the zone, that's probably better than relying on luck.

The one-time, so-called extreme ground ball pitcher has seen his ground ball percentage drop for the third straight season this year, from 54.3% in his final season in Detroit in 2013 to 48.9% in his first year in Washington last year and now 41.2% so far in 2015 as he's struggled to find his sink.

"With a sinker ball pitcher, if he loses feel for that then it's hard for him to make mistakes in the middle of the plate, because it's 87 or 88 mph instead of 96." -Matt Williams on Doug Fister struggling to find his sink

As he explained it to reporters, including the Washington Post's James Wagner, after his last turn in the rotation, in the second of back-to-back five-inning outings in which he gave up nine hits and four runs, he's struggling to find his "true sinker" and he's working on, "'... being able to keep it down and keep the ball moving downward.'"

"With a sinker ball pitcher," manager Matt Williams explained, "if he loses feel for that then it's hard for him to make mistakes in the middle of the plate, because it's 87 or 88 mph instead of 96. So he'll continue to work, there's no doubt about that, and he'll be ready for his next one."

Fister took the mound tonight against Miami looking to snap a four-start winless streak.

Since coming off the DL in mid-June, the right-hander was (1-4) before tonight with a 4.72 ERA, seven walks and 20 Ks in six starts and 34 ⅓ innings pitched, over which opposing hitters have put up a .324/.362/.479 line against him.

Fister was facing the Marlins tonight for the first time this season, after going (2-0) with a 1.15 ERA, two walks and 10 Ks in two starts and 15 ⅔ IP vs the Fish last season, in which he held Miami's hitters to a .151/.196/.302 line.

The Marlins went down in order in a quick, 13-pitch, 1-2-3 first, with two line drive outs and one deep fly ball.

Derek Dietrich took a fastball inside off the elbow for a two-out HBP in the bottom of the second, and Ichiro Suzuki drove him in with a two-out double to left. 1-0 Fish. 22-pitch frame, 35 total after two.

Martin Prado hit a two-out single to center for his fourth hit of the series after a three-hit game last night, but Christian Yelich grounded out to end a 13-pitch frame. 48 total.

Given a 2-1 lead to work with, Fister walked Justin Bour in the first at bat of the fourth, and two outs later, gave up hit no.2901 by Ichiro on a single over the mound and up the middle. Adeiny Hechavarria stepped in with two on and two and singled to left, bringing the walk around. Ichico was tagged out in a rundown, but it was all tied up at 2-2. 22-pitch frame, 70 total.

With the score 5-2 Nats courtesy of a three-run home run by Bryce Harper, Fister set the Marlins down in order in a 14-pitch fifth. 84 total.

Fister hit Justin Bour with one down in the Marlins' sixth, but stranded him two outs later, at the end of a 12-pitch sixth. 96 total.

Doug Fister's Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks, 2 HBPs, 96 P, 57 S, 5/3 GO/FO.

4. Koehler vs Harper: Tom Koehler didn't fare so well in his last start against Washington before tonight's, but he did actually shut the Nationals out over seven innings the first time he faced Miami's NL East rivals this season.

"Of course you're not going to do that every single day," Harper said. "You're not going to go out there and hit three homers or whatever and drive in five." -Bryce Harper after hitting three HRs off Tom Koehler earlier this season

The Marlins' 29-year-old held the Nats to six hits and no runs in 7 ⅓ innings pitched in an April 25th outing in Marlins Park, but two weeks later in the nation's capital, Bryce Harper torched him for three home runs in three consecutive at bats in what ended up a 7-5 win for the Nationals.

"Of course you're not going to do that every single day," Harper said after the game. "You're not going to go out there and hit three homers or whatever and drive in five. But that's the type of player I need to be."

After the first outing, and Koehler's 7 ⅓ scoreless vs the Nats, Matt Williams talked to reporters about what he was doing to confound hitters that day.

"He had good curveball command," WIlliams said. "Threw some changeups. Good sliders. Threw a couple of them to [Ryan Zimmerman], one to Jayson [Werth] to strike him out. So he was right on. He was on. Elevated when he needed to. He had all of them working today."

On the year, before tonight, Koehler was (8-6) in 19 games (18 starts) and 111 IP, with a 3.16 ERA, 4.32 FIP, 39 walks (3.16 BB/9),  78 Ks (6.32 K/9) and a .228/.303/.370 line against as a starter.

His third start of the season against the Nationals began with a four-pitch walk to Anthony Rendon.

One out later, Jayson Werth grounded back to the mound, but instead of a 1-4-3 DP, Koehler sailed the throw to second high. E:1.

Two on, one out for Bryce Harper, who worked the count full, but K'd swinging through a fastball. Ryan Zimmerman then lined out to a diving Dee Gordon at second to end a 24-pitch frame.

Jose Lobaton lined a two-out single to center in the second, but he was stranded when Doug Fister K'd swinging to end a 17-pitch frame.

Given a 1-0 lead to work with, Koehler retired the Nationals in order in a nine-pitch frame that left him at 50 pitches total after three.

Bryce Harper reached safely on a pop to shallow left that fell in fair for a leadoff hit in the fourth and scored one out later on an RBI triple to right by Ian Desmond, who went with a first-pitch curve and lined it to right to bring Harper in. 1-1 game. A sac fly to left by Michael Taylor put the Nationals up, 2-1. 19-pitch fourth for Koehler, 69 total.

Koehler retired the first two batters in the fifth, but Yunel Escobar started a two-out rally with a single to center. Jayson Werth followed with a grounder up the middle and Bryce Harper stepped in with two on and two out and took a 92 mph 1-2 fastball up and inside for a ride, sending a three-run blast to left to make it a 5-2 game. 23-pitch frame. 92 total.

• The Nationals went down in order in a quick, six-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth. 98 pitches overall for Koehler.

Tom Koehler's Line: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 98 P, 61 S, 7/3 GO/FO.

3. Random Game Notes: The Marlins are 5-2 against the Nationals this season, with four straight wins after they came from behind to beat the NL East leaders last night, all of them in Marlins Park.

•  In July, the Marlins' pitchers' 2.45 ERA as a team is the best in the majors.

• Marlins' catcher J.T. Realmuto has a career-long nine-game hit streak going over which he has a .343 BAA with three doubles, a triple and two home runs over that stretch.

• For today's updated "Fun With Arbitrary End Points" segment, Christian Yelich has a .364 AVG (32 for 88) in the last 25 games (since June 27th) with six duobles, a home run, 14 walks, 11 Ks and a .456 OBP over that stretch.

• New Nats' closer Jonathan Papelbon is one of only three closers in the majors to be perfect in save opportunities this season.

• Nationals pitchers have issued 208 walks total this season, the fewest in the majors and 24 less the second-place team on that list.

Ian Desmond's hitting streak ended last night, but he's still 11 for 27 with hits in seven of the last eight with four home runs, four walks and eight runs scored over that stretch.

• Bryce Harper extended his on-base streak to 24-straight games last night and his road on-base streak to 43-straight games. He extended that to 25 and 44 with a leadoff single in the fourth.

2. Turning Point(s): Doug Fister retired the first five batters he faced tonight before he hit Derek Dietrich on the elbow with a fastball up and in. Ichiro Suzuki stepped in next and lined a 1-0 sinker to left for an RBI double that put the Fish up 1-0 early in the second game of three in Miami.

• Ian Desmond was 0 for 4 with 4 Ks in last night's series opener, but he tripled in a run in the fourth tonight, going the other way with a first-pitch curve outside and lining it to right with Bryce Harper on first. Harper scored on the three-base hit and Desmond scored on a sac fly to left by Michael Taylor in the next at bat, 2-1 Nats.

• Bryce Harper hit three home runs in three straight at bats against Tom Koehler in the nation's capital earlier this season, and the Nats' 22-year-old slugger got to the Marlins' right-hander again tonight, hitting a two-out, three-run home run to left in the fifth to put the Nationals up, 5-2. No.28 for Harper, who improved to 7 for 21 with five home runs vs Koehler in their respective careers.

1. The Wrap-Up: Anthony Rendon doubled to left on a grounder by third off Sam Dyson with one down in the top of the seventh.

Casey Janssen took the mound for the Nationals in the seventh and retired the Marlins in order in an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 frame. Still 5-2 Nationals.

Bryce Harper's second home run of the year was a leadoff home run to right off Sam Dyson that ended up in the middle of the upper deck in Marlins Park. 6-2 Nationals.

Michael Taylor hit an opposite field blast too. 7-2.

Drew Storen threw a quick, nine-pitch, 1-2-3 eighth.

Tanner Roark took over in the ninth and walked Justin Bour in the first at bat. One out later, Casey McGehee doubled to right to put runners on second and third in front of Ichiro, who K'd looking at a 1-2 fastball up high for out no.2 and Adeiny Hechavarria sent a fly to center to end it. Ballgame. 7-2 final.

Nationals now 53-46