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Washington Nationals blow early lead in 7-3 Grapefruit League loss to Miami Marlins

Aníbal Sánchez was sharp, even while dealing with a wet mound. Andrew Stevenson keeps getting on base and his manager likes it. The bullpen? Well...

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals at New York Yankees John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Going into his third start of the Spring, the Washington Nationals and Aníbal Sánchez were hoping to get four innings out of the veteran starter, who went three innings on 49 pitches the last time out during this past Sunday afternoon’s matchup with the New York Mets.

Sánchez, 36, got off to a good start last night, with an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 bottom of the first against the Miami Marlins in Jupiter, FL’s Roger Dean Stadium, and the soft-tossing righty’s second inning of work went well with only a leadoff single allowed.

After hitting the first batter of the Marlins’ third, Sánchez retired the next three in order and he took the mound in the top of the fourth with a 3-0 lead after Yadiel Hernandez walked, Welington Castillo singled, Andrew Stevenson took a free pass, and Jake Noll hit a two-run single to center field off lefty Dylan Lee, 2-0, before Stevenson scored on a sac fly to right by JB Shuck, 3-0.

Sánchez retired the Marlins in order in the top of the fourth, and he was done for the night after throwing a total of 50 pitches (32 strikes).

“Early in the game I just tried to put the pitch on the corners and it wasn’t working — like really the mound was too wet, so I’m slipping a little bit,” Sánchez told reporters after what ended up being a 7-3 loss, “but late in the game and in the fourth inning I think I felt really strong with better command.”

Bullpen Action: Hunter Strickland was the first pitch out of the bullpen for the Nationals, and the veteran reliever gave up a leadoff single and a one-out home run, with the single Lewis Brinson’s and the home run by Chad Wallach, who made it a one-run game with his two-run blast.

Miguel Rojas doubled off Strickland in the next at bat, but back-to-back Ks got him out of the inning with the 3-2 lead intact.

Strickland has now given up seven hits (two home runs) and five runs (four earned) in four innings on the mound this Spring.

Stevenson Getting On: Andrew Stevenson started the night 6 for 18 this Spring, with three walks as well (and a HBP), meaning he’d reached base in 10 of his 22 plate appearances, and he went 0 for 1 with a walk against in his first two PAs vs the Marlins last night, so, as MASN’s Mark Zuckerman noted on Twitter, he’d reached base in 11 of his first 24 PAs in Grapefruit League action to that point.

Not bad for the fifth or sixth outfielder on the Nationals’ 40-Man roster, though the fact that he has options remaining while others don’t makes it more likely he’ll start the season in the minors in spite of the strong showing early in Spring Training.

Stevenson finished the night 0 for 2 with the walk and run scored.

“He looks great right now,” his manager, Davey Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after the game. “And he’s swinging the bat really well. He can hit some fastballs, I can tell you that, no matter who’s throwing them. We’ll see what happens. With this 26th man, we’ve got tons of decisions to make.”

More Bullpen Issues: It was still 3-2 Nationals in the sixth when right-hander James Bourque gave up a one-out single and two-out, two-run home run that put the Marlins on top, 4-3.

Austen Williams allowed back-to-back walks with one out in the seventh and a groundout moved the runners (Jazz Chisolm and Jesus Sanchez) up before they scored on a two-run double by Monte Harrison, 6-3. Harrison scored on a two-out single off Kyle McGowin, 7-3.