GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Max Scherzer taking the mound used to be a sure thing for the Nationals. These days, it's anything but.
Scherzer's August struggles continued when the right-hander served up a pair of early homers to the Marlins, putting his team in a hole. He did bounce back to finish his night on a high note, retiring 12 straight, but the Nationals were left trying to rally and get their wayward ace off the hook.
The Nats did chip away at Miami rookie Adam Conley, getting solo homers from Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos and then a sacrifice fly from Ryan Zimmerman. But they couldn't push across the tying run against the Marlins bullpen, and so they were left stewing over a frustrating loss in the opener of a series they desperately need to take.
HITTING LOWLIGHT: The Nats had the makings of a big rally in the bottom of the seventh, when they loaded the bases with nobody out and knocked Conley out of the game. Rookie right-hander Kyle Barraclough entered to face Zimmerman, who just got under a pitch and sent a fly ball to deep center field, a sac fly that brought home one run and trimmed the deficit to 4-3. That's where the deficit stayed, because Barraclough struck out Desmond on a breaking ball down and away, then after walking Danny Espinosa to load the bases again managed to deflect Ramos' smoked comebacker right to teammate Dee Gordon, who tossed to first to end the inning.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Scherzer hasn't been himself lately, we know that. We don't know why, however. Did he burn out throwing so many innings earlier this summer? Is it just bad mechanics? Whatever the case, he has been giving up way more hard-hit balls recently than he did during the season's first half, especially home runs. He gave up two more tonight, making it seven homers allowed in his last four starts alone. To his credit, Scherzer buckled down after that, eschewing his fastball for more offspeed stuff. He wound up retiring the last 12 batters he faced, at least keeping the Nationals in the game. Still, four runs in seven innings is not what this team is looking for from its ace right now.
KEY STAT: After committing 21 errors in his first 84 games this season, Desmond has been charged with only two in his last 38 games.
UP NEXT: Jordan Zimmermann (10-8, 3.54) takes the mound for the second game of the series, at 7:05 p.m. Saturday. It'll be right-hander Tom Koehler (8-12, 3.98) for the Marlins.
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