With Ricky Nolasco’s track record against the Nationals and a history of rubber-match success on their side, the Marlins were in prime position Wednesday night to try and win their first series of the season.
It didn’t happen.
Bryce Harper, the new official thorn in Nolasco’s side, returned from his one-game bout with the stomach flu and produced three hits and a run as the Nationals upended the Marlins 6-1 in front of an announced crowd of 22,302 at Marlins Park.
A night after setting off the home run sculpture for the first time this season and scoring a season-high eight runs, Ross Detwiler made the Marlins (3-12) look like their old selves, scattering seven hits over seven innings and allowing just one earned run while striking out five.
“We had that one opportunity early — first and second, nobody out [in the second] and couldn’t move them,” manager Mike Redmond said. “Other than that he was tough. He threw a lot of strikes, a lot of fastballs. We really weren’t able to get anything going at all.”
Shortstop Chris Valaika, starting for an injured Adeiny Hechavarria — who missed his first game of the season with a sore right elbow — scored the Marlins’ lone run when he doubled and scored with a nifty slide on Donovan Solano’s two-out RBI single to right in the fifth.
Replays showed Valaika might have been out, but the argument Nationals manager Davey Johnson had with home plate umpire Greg Gibson didn’t change anything.
Detwiler, who came in having won just one of his past 13 road starts, continued his early season dominance by doing a nice job dancing out of trouble outside of that. The 27-year-old left-hander, who came in having allowed just one earned run over his first 13 innings this season (0.69 ERA), escaped situations with runners in scoring position in both the second and third.
Nolasco, who came in with an 11-6 record and a 3.54 ERA in 21 appearances against Washington — including a pair of shutout victories over the Nationals during the final two months of last season — wasn’t as good at evading trouble Wednesday as Detwiler.
Back-to-back singles by Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond to open the second inning put runners on the corners and led to the first two runs of the game. After Desmond stole second, Roger Bernadina put the Nationals ahead with a groundout to short. With Desmond on third base, catcher Kurt Suzuki made it a two-run cushion with a sacrifice fly to center.
“Felt like I threw the ball well, just didn’t catch a couple breaks there. I felt like we had Desmond at second and that could have limited the damage,” said Nolasco, who later gave up a 370-foot solo home run to Suzuki to open the fifth and gave up four earned runs over six innings with six strikeouts and no walks.
“Overall, I felt I threw the ball well, didn’t walk anybody. Even the hits I gave up were good pitches. Nothing to hang my head about — just keep going and keep eating up innings and giving this team a chance to win.”
Harper, who crushed a pair of solo home runs off Nolasco in the Nats’ season-opening 2-0 win in Washington, had three of the Nationals’ seven hits off Nolasco to raise his career average to .450 (9 of 20) against Nolasco. Harper led off the sixth with a double and then scored on LaRoche’s RBI single to left, which beat a drawn-in infield.
“Now it’s to the point where I make a good pitches and they’re still falling,” Nolasco said. “I just hope he doesn’t turn into Chipper Jones for me, where every time I break his bat or even make good pitches it’s still a hit. I’m going to be seeing him a lot so I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting him out more than he gets me.”
The Nationals, who came in just 3-10 all-time in rubber games against the Marlins in South Florida since moving to Washington in 2005, pounded out 11 hits in all.
The Marlins finished just 50 of 277 (.179) at the plate during the 2-7 home stand. They were outscored 37-18.
Miami begins a six-game road trip through Cincinnati and Minnesota on Thursday.
Hechavarria, who hit the lone home run during the home stand and injured himself Wednesday making a throw during batting practice, may not make the trip. Redmond said the Marlins could opt to keep Valaika there or move second baseman Donovan Solano to short if needed.
“We got some options there,” Redmond said. “Obviously we can’t afford another injury. It seems like we get a guy back and lose another guy. It’s tough right now.”