The bullpen was plenty rested for the Marlins, what with a postponement and scheduled day off heading into Sunday.
It just wasn’t nearly effective.
After starting pitcher Tom Koehler gave the Marlins more than six solid innings, the bullpen failed to provide him with adequate support in a 4-2 loss to the Nationals.
With the score tied 1-1 in the seventh, the Nationals broke through against Chris Narveson and Edwin Jackson, coming up with three runs in the inning to put it away.
“It would have been nice to come in and have a shutdown inning for him, for the way he pitched,” Jackson said of Koehler.
The bullpen could be a soft spot for the Marlins. They lost Carter Capps to season-ending Tommy John surgery in spring training and left-hander Mike Dunn to an arm injury at the start of the season.
Without either of those two short-inning specialists and with Kyle Barraclough sent to the minors to iron out his command issues, the Marlins opted to start the season with relievers who could give them multiple innings, such as Jackson, Narveson and Dustin McGowan.
“Yeah, I guess you’d love to have a situation where your seventh [inning reliever] is one guy, the eighth is one guy, the ninth is one guy,” manager Don Mattingly said.
“We just don’t have that situation. With us, it’s just a matter of taking the guys we thought would give us the best chance to win games.”
Dunn’s absence was never more apparent than in Sunday’s seventh inning. Koehler started the inning by striking out Michael Taylor. But he gave up a single to Anthony Rendon, bringing up Bryce Harper.
Harper has hurt Koehler in the past, blistering him with five of his 99 career home runs.
There was no way Mattingly was going to allow Koehler to pitch to him, especially after having already thrown 101 pitches.
Normally, Dunn would have been brought in to face Harper, who has gone just 3 for 18 against the Marlins’ southpaw. But with Dunn on the disabled list, Mattingly turned to another lefty, Narveson.
Harper doubled, prompting Mattingly to order Narveson to intentionally walk Daniel Murphy to load the bases. Mattingly then turned to the right-handed Jackson to face Jayson Werth, who blooped a two-strike single into short right to drive in the go-ahead run.
“It’s one of those situations — bases loaded, one out — where you really don’t have room to be too perfect,” Jackson said. “I felt like I made a pretty decent pitch to him. But he’s a good hitter, he put the ball in play, and it dropped in for him.”
Two batters later, Clint Robinson delivered a two-run single on a 3-2 pitch from Jackson.
“I was able to get to two strikes on hitters,” Jackson said. “I just couldn’t put them away.”
Said Mattingly: “Edwin, he gets two quick strikes on [Werth] and wasn’t able to put him away. He gets [Wilson] Ramos to pop up. He gets Clint two strikes and not able to polish him off either.”
And that, in a nutshell, was it.
The Marlins got on the board first when Dee Gordon tripled to start the first inning and Giancarlo Stanton delivered a two-out RBI single off Nationals starter Joe Ross.
Washington answered in the bottom of the first with a run of its own on Harper’s RBI double off the wall. Harper needs one more home run for his 100th, and just missed.
But both starters settled in after the first.
Koehler became the first Marlins pitcher this season to complete six innings. He was lifted with one out in the seventh, which is when the trouble started.
“We fought all day,” Koehler said. “We just didn’t have enough.”
Christian Yelich homered in the ninth off Jonathan Papelbon to make it 4-2, and Martin Prado singled with two outs to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of pinch-hitter Derek Dietrich.
But after fouling off two pitches, Dietrich grounded out to second to end the game.