In the second of three-straight series against teams under .500, the Washington Nationals laid an egg down in Miami. They dropped the first two games of the series in disappointing fashion before salvaging the finale.
The Nats continue to feel like a team stuck in second gear and have hovered around the .500 mark so far this season. Yes, it's still early in the year, but it needs to change before the eerie sense of last year kicks in.
Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly takeaways from the series defeat to the Marlins.
Struggling players put in strong efforts
Despite the disappointing result overall, the Nationals saw a few of their scuffling players show up in this series.
Stephen Strasburg played stopper on Sunday after the team dropped the opening two games of the series. The long-time Nat was filthy over eight scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out 11 Marlins.
Ryan Zimmerman also played a huge role in Sunday’s win by hitting two homers. With Matt Adams making his opportunities count, there have been calls from some to get the lefty more ABs, but Zimmerman will get every chance to break out of his slump.
Finally, Brian Dozier was able to launch two home runs during the series. The second baseman has been hitting the ball with a lot more authority lately after seemingly rolling into weak grounders early on. Historically a slow starter, he might finally be coming around.
It’s only really a silver lining given how the rest of the series went, but if these three key veterans in particular can right their respective ships, it bodes well for the Nats.
Ross settling nicely into relief role
After entering Spring Training as a starter, Joe Ross was called up as a reliever to help support an unsettled relief corps. And after he was rocked in his first appearance out of the bullpen, he’s continued to settle in as a reliever.
Ross delivered a pair of scoreless frames in the series opener in Miami on Friday, helping keep the Nats in the game until the end. Now, he’s impressed manager Dave Martinez enough to perhaps give him higher leverage opportunities.
“I told him that he did an amazing job,” Martinez said following Friday’s game. “From here on out he’ll be used more of a guy, instead of a long-man.”
With improved velocity on his fastball and slider, Ross could turn into a top-tier reliever who has the ability to go multiple innings if needed. That would be a massive boost to a bullpen in dire straits and in need of as many reliable arms as possible.
Davey’s bullpen decision under scrutiny again
The bullpen almost managed to avoid the series recap entirely this week. But Nationals manager Dave Martinez still made some fairly questionable decisions regarding his relief corps throughout the series.
On Saturday, Martinez let Max Scherzer hit for himself in the sixth inning, despite the right-hander getting beaten up by the Marlins. Then in the bottom half of the frame, he got hit hard again, surrendering two more runs before he was pulled.
Then in the finale, Martinez brought in Kyle Barraclough to finish off the game with a five-run lead. But after a pair of two-out walks, the manager pulled his right-hander in favor of Sean Doolittle, rather than sticking with the former Marlin with a big lead.
And perhaps a slightly lesser concern, but we didn’t see Trevor Rosenthal at all in the series. If the Nationals bullpen is going to succeed, they need to get Rosenthal right, so not using him when a low-leverage chance presented itself Saturday is a missed opportunity.
In fairness to Martinez, some of these decisions must feel forced with the poor performance of the bullpen. Regardless, it’s clear that he still has some work to do in this area of his job and needs to have faith in his relievers or they will never get things turned around.
Injury scares littered throughout the series
Even though Trea Turner broke his finger early on in the season, the Nationals had generally been able to avoid injuries to key players so far this season. However, that wasn’t without their fair share of scares during this series.
Anthony Rendon has been one of the best hitters in baseball in 2019, but after getting a fastball to the arm on Saturday, the Nats had to hold their breath. Even though he was held out of the lineup on Sunday, it looks like he’ll avoid the IL after X-rays came back negative.
But Rendon wasn’t the only one to have a scare on Saturday, Victor Robles crashed into the centerfield wall and looked a little woozy after the play. But he stayed in the game and even played the very next day, which should alleviate concerns over his health for now.
There was even a bizarre scare with Max Scherzer on Sunday, a day after pitching. Lewis Brinson fouled a ball off into the Nats’ dugout, which caused Scherzer to tweak an intercostal muscle trying to avoid it. He says he should be fine in a day or two, but it’s something to watch.
The three players who got a little dinged up this series are all huge pieces to the Nats and their chances of making the postseason. If need be, they should definitely proceed with caution if they are still ailing next week.
Scherzer can’t reel in the Fish
It’s been a strange start to the season for Max Scherzer. It continued on Saturday night when the Marlins teed off on the right-hander for seven runs in just 5.1 innings.
In the game, he gave up 11 hits, the most he’d surrendered since he gave up 11 to the Cardinals on September 2nd, 2015. Eight of those hits were line drives with Scherzer leaving too many pitches over the heart of the plate and the Marlins making him pay.
“When Max is good he goes north and south. He didn’t do that tonight,” Dave Martinez said after the game. “He couldn’t get below the zone, he left everything pretty much up. But you know what, he knows, he comes back in five days and he’s our best.”
Perhaps the only knock on Scherzer since coming to the Nationals has been that he’s prone to the long ball, so an outing like this where everything went wrong shouldn’t be overly surprising. He’s clearly good enough to rebound from this and make it just a one-off stinker.
Next up: The Nationals continue their road trip with a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies. Jeremy Hellickson, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez will take the ball for the visitors hoping to bounce back from an ugly series in Miami.