Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Sun Life Stadium, the cavernous home of the Florida Marlins.
You think the Marlins are just a wee bit eager to move into their new baseball-only, retractable-roof ballpark in 2012? They've already begun the countdown, with a sign on the left-field fence declaring only 118 more games at this monstrosity until the big move.
The real shame of this place is that it seats like 70,000 people. So even though the Marlins are expecting an above-normal crowd of 25,000 for the second-half opener featuring Stephen Strasburg, the stadium will be only slightly more than one-third full.
Jim Riggleman goes with his standard lineup for the first game back from the All-Star break. It'll be real interesting to see how he splits up playing time at second base during this first road trip. Before the break, he suggested that Adam Kennedy will start playing more in place of Cristian Guzman. That's not the case tonight, but we'll see how this plays out.
Check back for updates before, during and after the game...
NATIONALS at MARLINS
Where: Sun Life Stadium
Gametime: 7:10 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Chance of storms, 85 degrees, Wind 12 mph RF to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
C Ivan Rodriguez
RF Roger Bernadina
SS Ian Desmond
P Stephen Strasburg
LF Chris Coghlan
1B Gaby Sanchez
SS Hanley Ramirez
2B Dan Uggla
3B Jorge Cantu
CF Cody Ross
RF Mike Stanton
C Ronny Paulino
P Ricky Nolasco
7:08 p.m. -- They may be calling for a crowd of 25,000 tonight, but we're two minutes from first pitch and there might be 15,000 actually in their seats. And that may be a generous estimate.
7:12 p.m. -- The second half of the season is now underway. Nyjer Morgan pops up the first pitch he sees from Ricky Nolasco to the catcher.
7:20 p.m. -- Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn each singled with two outs; Dunn somehow managed to hit into the Marlins' shift and still beat it out. But Josh Willingham was caught looking at a 2-2 slider from Nolasco, so Strasburg takes the mound in a scoreless game.
7:39 p.m. -- We've seen this before: Strasburg laboring to get through the first inning, needing a ton of pitches to do it. He threw 34 pitches (18 strikes) but only faced five Marlins batters. Gaby Sanchez battled through a brilliant, 12-pitch at-bat to draw a walk. Dan Uggla also drew a free pass. Still, Strasburg didn't allow a hit, and he didn't allow a run. So it's scoreless after one, though it's going to be tough for him to make it into the sixth inning tonight.
7:46 p.m. -- Nolasco just breezed through the second, striking out both Roger Bernadina and Ian Desmond in retiring the side. Very quickly, Strasburg is back out to the mound.
7:56 p.m. -- The Marlins got a couple of singles in the second off Strasburg, but otherwise it was a very clean inning for the rookie. He threw several knee-buckling curveballs to fool Cody Ross and Ronny Paulino. Is there another pitcher in baseball who, when he gets into trouble, can so effortlessly turn to his breaking ball to bail him out? It's really impressive. Still scoreless through two. Strasburg has now thrown 49 pitches, 29 strikes.
8:10 p.m. -- Here's something we haven't seen from Strasburg before: He's walked more batters (three) than he's struck out (two). His four-seamer command still isn't there, but he's getting through it thanks to that devastating curveball. He's also turned to his two-seamer, throwing it in the mid-90s with more effectiveness. Through three, it's still scoreless. Pitch count: 63 (37 strikes).
8:17 p.m. -- Adam Dunn, with two more hits tonight, is now batting .292. He's never finished a season higher than .267 (last year). Obviously, there's still a long way to go, and he tailed off considerably at the end of 2010. But the guy really has made an effort to become a better hitter, and it seems to be paying off.
8:25 p.m. -- That's the inning Strasburg needed. Eight pitches, six strikes, three outs. He's really relying on that curveball to get ahead in the count. He's started nine of 17 batters off with the curve so far. Through four, he's thrown 71 pitches in what remains a scoreless ballgame.
8:33 p.m. -- If there's one legitimate gripe about Strasburg, it's this: He's been a terrible bunter so far. I mean, he's absolutely killing himself up there. Unable to get a sacrifice down just now in the fifth, he wound up on the front end of a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play, with Ian Desmond getting gunned down at second to end the inning. It's still scoreless as we head to the bottom of the fifth.
8:40 p.m. -- As we've seen several times previously, Strasburg has found his groove in the middle portion of the game. He's cruised through the last three innings and has retired seven in a row. Since that shaky first inning, he's thrown 34 of 49 pitches for strikes, relying almost entirely on fastballs and changeups. And as so often been the case, the Nats are doing nothing to support him. It's still scoreless through five. Unbelievable.
8:55 p.m. -- Josh Willingham could not have looked more inept at the plate through the first 2 1/2 at-bats of his night. Seriously, he had been completely overmatched by Nolasco. But then Nolasco hung a 1-2 slider, and Willingham hammered it to right-center for a three-run double. Yes, even Dunn scored from first (though I have no idea how he managed to pull that off). Just like that, Nolasco is out of the game and the Nationals have given Strasburg a 3-0 lead in the sixth.
8:58 p.m. -- Make it 4-0 after Pudge greets Brian Sanches (remember him?) with a sac fly on his first pitch.
9:10 p.m. -- Tonight's paid attendance: 27,037. That's the smallest crowd for any Strasburg start by more than 4,000 fans.
9:15 p.m. -- You know, that's the last time I'm going to doubt Strasburg's ability to overcome a shaky first inning. Despite that 34-pitch frame, he still managed to make it through the sixth. Needed only 65 pitches to get through his final five innings of work. Impressive. His final line: 6 ip, 4 h, 0 r, 3 bb, 7 k. 99 pitches, 63 strikes. The 99 pitches are a season-high, and this also is the first time he hasn't allowed a run. (Who knew?) Nine outs from the Nats' bullpen (I'm guessing it'll be Storen, then Clippard, then Capps) and Strasburg will improve to 4-2.
9:30 p.m. -- Storen it is for the seventh. Will it be Clippard in the eighth, or if the Nats are up four or more runs, would Riggleman let Storen return for another inning or even go with Peralta? Stay tuned.
9:37 p.m. -- Real quick seventh for Storen. Riggleman could choose to send him back out there.
9:43 p.m. -- And he does.
9:49 p.m. -- Very nice job by Storen. Two scoreless innings, only one man reached base (on a walk), only one batter got the ball out of the infield. We'll see who pitches the ninth, but Capps was warming up earlier. Seems strange to use him up four runs, though.
9:54 p.m. -- And we go to the bottom of the ninth, with the Nats up 4-0 and Matt Capps taking the mound. Very interesting.
10:04 p.m. -- That'll do it. The Nats open the second half of the season on a high note, beating the Marlins 4-0. Strasburg gets the win and improves to 4-2 with a 2.03 ERA. Nolasco falls to 9-7. Willingham is the offensive hero. This is the first time the Nats have shut out the Marlins in Florida since ... September 2005, in a game started by ... Hector Carrasco!