Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jason Marquis was solid again, But Anibal Sanchez was better.
Of course, none of that really mattered at the end of a 4-1 loss to the Marlins that felt like plenty of other losses to the Marlins that preceded it.
"A lot of good stuff happened," Jim Riggleman said. "But the story of the day really was Sanchez."
That's Anibal Sanchez, the latest Florida starter to manhandle the Nationals lineup. The 26-year-old right-hander retired the first 14 batters he faced, 19 of the first 20. Which would be news if he hadn't done this plenty of times before.
"He's been good every time we've seen him," Riggleman said. "I don't know how many times he's pitched against us, but I don't really feel like we've gotten him yet."
That's correct, Jim. Sanchez has made four starts against the Nats this season. He's 2-0 with a 1.07 ERA. Until Wilson Ramos doubled in Nyjer Morgan in the eighth, Sanchez hadn't allowed a run in his last 21 1/3 innings against the Nats. Oh, and in 13 career starts against this franchise, he's 5-0 with a 2.28 ERA.
Of course, you could find similar stats for just about anybody the Marlins send to the mound or the plate against the Nationals. This was the Nats' ninth loss in their last 10 games against Florida. Over the last three years, they're 14-38. That's a .269 winning percentage. Which means if they played each other 162 times, the Nats would go 43-119.
Oh, and there's still one more head-to-head game left tomorrow afternoon!
"They've got a good pitching staff, with the big guy Johnson, Nolasco, Sanchez," Riggleman said. "They really have put together a formidable staff there. But as much as we see them, we're going to have to step up and get them."
The shame of today's loss was that it came at the expense of yet another solid outing from Marquis, who didn't allow a hit until the fifth and wound up striking out eight (his most in any start since September 1, 2008).
In seven starts since returning from the DL, Marquis has posted a 3.55 ERA. Over his last five starts, his ERA is 2.40. All of this leaves the veteran righty feeling much better about himself as an otherwise disastrous season nears its conclusion.
"It's definitely a positive sign, getting back to where I need to be," he said. "I feel like I've made a lot of strides since the surgery. ... I just want to finish up strong, so when you enter the offseason, mentally you have a fresh and positive mind instead of heading into the offseason and spring training not knowing what's going on."
Here's what the Nationals have in Marquis: A reliable veteran who should be able to be counted on next season to give his team a chance to win just about every time he takes the mound. Staff ace? No. Important member of the rotation? Yes.
And here's what the Nationals appear to have in Espinosa: A supremely talented infielder who can get to just about anything hit in his general vicinity, has the arm to throw anybody out from just about anywhere and has the confidence to play at this level.
Yes, it's only been nine games. And yes, he's now 0 for his last 13 after a ridiculous 9-for-16 start to his career.
But the key to September evaluations of rookies is not so much what their stats say but whether they look like they belong in the big leagues. And so far, Espinosa looks like he belongs, just as Ian Desmond did one year ago.
Espinosa's diving stop of Logan Morrison's fifth-inning smash up the middle followed by his rifle throw to first was as good a play as you'll see all season. In the nearly six years of their existence, the Nationals have sent 25 different players out to second base, a motley crew that includes the likes of Ronnie Belliard, Felipe Lopez, Bernie Castro, Carlos Baerga and Damian Jackson. Not one one them makes the play Espinosa made today.
"I mean, the range to get it and the arm to finish the play off ... just a tremendous play," Riggleman said. "I don't know what more you could do there. I don't know much farther anybody can go to get a ball. And then to throw it the way he did was tremendous."
Let's not forget that Espinosa only began playing second base a month ago.
"I'm starting to feel more comfortable every day over there," he said.
Even at age 23, with less than two weeks of big-league service time, Espinosa also knows his individual performance means nothing if it comes during another frustrating loss to a team that has dominated the Nats like no other.
"We need to win those games," he said. "Our pitchers are doing a good job keeping us in the game, giving us an opportunity to win the game. And we just haven't done it the last couple days."