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Sinking Washington Nationals settle for two hits vs Miami Marlins

They didn’t get no-hit, but the Nationals came close...

MLB: Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals
Josh Bell broke up Sandy Alcantra’s no-hitter in the seventh inning. but the Washington Nationals could get no more offense against Alcantra in a 3-0 loss to the Miami Marlins.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins are both playing to avoid the National League East cellar, but they seem to be already heading in different directions.

The Marlins, last-place finishers in the two most recent full seasons, got a dominant starting performance from Sandy Alcantara, holding the Nats to just two hits.

The Nationals, meanwhile, headed for their first season with more than 81 losses since 2011, could not support a strong starting effort from Paolo Espino in a 3-0 Marlins’ victory.

Alcantara’s performance was reminiscent of many the Nationals got on their way to four division championships and a World Series championship from 2012-2019.

Working one more inning after Josh Bell’s seventh-inning single that broke up the no-hitter, the right-hander struck out seven overall in the outing, and reached three-ball counts on only two batters.

“He was really good,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez told reporters afterward. “This is the hardest I’ve seen him throw. He was 99-100 [mph], slider 93-94, and he was hitting his spots, he was really good, our guys were battling to put a ball in play.”

Espino turned in what might have been his strongest start of the year, allowing six hits and one first-inning run over six innings, with six strikeouts and three walks. But with the Nats going three-up, three-down every inning, there was not much else he could do.

The only run Espino allowed was Jesús Sánchez’s RBI single, scoring Jazz Chisholm Jr., who had reached on a one-out single.

Espino told reporters afterward that a conversation with catcher Keibert Ruiz helped him settle down after that.

“We went inside in the dugout and we talked a little more strategic, like what kind of pitches I wanted to get right away,” Espino said. “From that second inning on I think Keibert and I, we were pretty much in sync a little quicker and we had a lot better pace throughout the game after that first inning.”

The Nats could not even manage a loud out against Alcantara.

The Nats’ hardest hit ball until Bell’s hit in the seventh was Juan Soto’s fourth-inning comebacker that caromed off the starter’s leg and right to Marlins’ first baseman Lewin Diaz for the out.

“I was definitely just thinking about what I was doing,” Espino said. “I knew [Alcantara] was doing a good job, I knew he was getting outs quick, because I had to run out there real quick, but I wasn’t really focusing much on what he was doing.”

Sam Clay and Austin Voth each contributed a perfect inning with a strikeout, but Keibert Ruiz reaching on Chisholm’s fielding error in the sixth was the only runner the Nats could muster until the seventh.

Alcides Escobar, Soto and Josh Bell seemed to give the Nats their best chance at some offense against Alcantara, but Escobar managed only a weak fly to right, and Soto fought off an inside slider, but rolled it right to Diaz in the shift for a 3-1 groundout.

Bell ended the tension on the first pitch he saw, though, lifting a slider at the bottom of the zone over Sanchez’s head in right field for the first Nats’ hit of the game.

“I think it’s just putting a good swing on a good pitch,” said Bell. “I felt pretty decent in my at-bat before, and I chased, so I was just trying to go up there that at-bat and make sure that something was in the zone.

“That was the first slider that I saw from him in a really long time. He’s been primarily two-seam and changeups to me for a while now, so I think he was just trying to sneak something in there, and I was able to get underneath it a little bit and drive it.”

Bell wasn’t relieved just to have broken up the no-hitter.

“No, I think that all that matters is getting the lead and holding the lead,” he said. “I feel like guys walking, guys getting on base is just as important as getting hits.”

Yadiel Hernández worked a full count against Alcantara, but struck out to end the threat.

The Marlins added a pair of runs in the ninth against Patrick Murphy on an Alex Jackson double that scored Lewis Brinson and Diaz.

Ryan Zimmerman, pinch hitting, in the ninth, got the Nats’ second hit of the night, but was erased when Lane Thomas grounded into a slick, 5-4-3 double play, and Escobar grounded to short to end the game.