If the 24,877 fans at Marlins Park on Tuesday night had been asked before the game which starting pitcher would carry a no-hitter into the fifth inning and toss a shutout, odds are Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg would have won the vote in a landslide.
And that would have had as much to do with Strasburg’s dominance over the Marlins (he came in having tossed 27 consecutive scoreless innings against Miami) as Ricky Nolasco’s second-half woes (1-6, 6.70 ERA).
But this is why baseball can be unpredictable at times.
Nolasco tossed his first shutout in more than a year and Strasburg got pummeled as the last-place Marlins (59-71) rolled to a 9-0 victory over first-place Washington (77-51).
Playing their first game at home since Aug. 15, the Marlins pounded-out 13 hits — including a season-high nine off Strasburg, who had given up a total of seven runs in seven previous starts against the Marlins (40 1/3 innings).
Led by Justin Ruggiano’s career-high four hits, including a 404-foot solo home run with one out in the first, Miami lit Strasburg up for a career-high seven runs (five earned) before he was finally pulled in the fifth.
“Don’t let him get to his nasty stuff,’’ Ruggiano said of his approach at the plate Tuesday.
“[Hitting coach] Eddie [Perez] prepared us well for Strasburg. He’s the toughest I’ve faced in the game as far of overall stuff. It was nice to get out early, and I think Ricky sort of set the tone the rest of the way, allowed us to relax and swing freely the rest of the night.’’
Nolasco, who came in with the fourth-highest ERA among qualified National League starters and the fifth-most hits allowed in the league, was dominant.
He located his breaking ball well, hit the inside corner and gave up five hits, struck out six and threw 78 of his 115 pitches for strikes. In addition to picking up his eighth career complete game, he also registered his first shutout victory since he beat Oakland 3-0 July 29, 2011.
It was his second complete game in three starts, but a much cleaner performance than when he took a 5-3 loss at Colorado to open the Marlins’ recent 11-game road trip.
“The thing that has been killing me — a lot — is the one big inning,’’ Nolasco said. “I’ve just been making adjustments. Me and [pitching coach Randy St. Claire] were talking, and I moved over to the [left] side of the mound [and that helped a lot, so I got more comfortable with that and was able to locate the ball a little bit better.’’
Giancarlo Stanton, named the National League Player of the Week on Monday, had a big night, too. He made another stellar diving catch in right field and finished 3 for 4 with three RBI, giving him 22 RBI this month.
His two-out RBI single to right in the first scored a hustling Carlos Lee from second, who made a pretty slide at home to avoid the tag. It was the first of seven two-out RBI by the Marlins on Tuesday.
After the Marlins tacked on another run in the third off Strasburg with the help of a defensive miscue by second baseman Danny Espinosa, Greg Dobbs stroked a two-out, two-run single to left to make it 5-0.
Ruggiano and Donovan Solano then added to the lead with two-out RBI singles in the fourth and fifth innings. Solano’s single to left in the fifth extended his hitting streak to 11 games.
That was all more than enough for Nolasco, who settled down and retired 14 in a row after Jayson Werth reached on a Dobbs error at third to open the game.
The string only ended when Espinosa swung and missed at strike three, but reached first when the wild pitched bounced past catcher Rob Brantly. Kurt Suzuki then sent a high chopper over the head of Lee at first base for the Nats’ first hit of the game.
Manager Ozzie Guillen went to the mound to check on Nolasco later in the sixth inning because coaches thought they had spotted the pitcher displaying signs of tightness. But Nolasco described it as usual aches and pains.