Batting practice went long Friday for the Washington Nationals.
Too long for Justin Nicolino and the Marlins.
Hitting the ball with authority, the Nationals lit into Nicolino for four runs in the second inning and made them stand up in a 4-1 victory over the Marlins.
“That inning they were in attack mode,” Nicolino said of the Nationals, whose hitters were swinging early in the count. “They were swinging. They were coming out hacking.”
There might have been a strong reason for that. Nicolino walked the first three batters he faced in Washington in his previous start, and the Nationals might have figured he would come out throwing strikes on Friday.
“I’m not a guy who walks people, and they know that, too,” Nicolino said. “I think that’s why they came out swinging because they knew I was going to make the adjustment to attack the zone.”
For the first time in four tries this season, Tanner Roark finally beat the only team that’s given him any trouble.
Roark had gone winless in his three prior starts against the Marlins. But he was in complete control at Marlins Park, allowing only a Marcell Ozuna solo home run in the fourth before coming out with two gone in the seventh.
Nicolino wasn’t nearly as fortunate.
Because the left-hander records so few strikeouts, Nicolino requires soft contact outs in order to be successful. But the Nationals not only made plenty of contact, they also hit the ball hard — at least early on.
“They were just ambushing me on pitches in,” Nicolino said. “I think that was their approach. They knew they were going to get it.”
Said Marlins manager Don Mattingly: “He’s not a guy who’s going to be able to throw the ball over the middle of the plate. He knows that. He’s got to hit edges and spots and change speeds. And early on he just got the ball over the middle of the plate.”
Ryan Zimmerman greeted Nicolino in the second inning with a leadoff homer that landed near the 427-foot sign in left-center. Back-to-back doubles by Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos immediately followed and produced another run. Michael Taylor capped off the scoring with a two-run homer.
Nicolino promptly retired the next 10 batters, but the damage had already been done.
Meanwhile, it was another quiet night at the plate for the Marlins, who totaled only three runs Tuesday and Wednesday in the final two games of their series against the Phillies.
The day off Thursday didn’t do them any good.
Outside of Ozuna and Derek Dietrich, who reached base four times, the Marlins’ lineup didn’t get to Roark the way they previously had this season, when they scored 14 runs off him in 15 innings.
And Giancarlo Stanton remained in his slump, going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. Stanton has just four hits in his past 45 at-bats and over the past four games has gone 0 for 14 with 12 strikeouts.
The Marlins didn’t help themselves on the basepaths, either.
With his team three runs down in the seventh, Adeiny Hechavarria was thrown out at second trying to stretch his single into a double. And Christian Yelich was doubled off first on Ozuna’s line-drive out in the eighth.
Mattingly said both were base running mistakes.
“We’re down to eight outs at that point before that out, and you’re down three runs,” Mattingly said of Hechavarria’s over-aggressiveness. “It’s just not playing the scoreboard. You have to play the scoreboard there. That’s really got to be 100 percent. It’s one of those that can’t be close.”
Mattingly said Yelich should not have been so far off the bag when Ozuna lined out to second.
“Yeli can’t be doubled off there,” Mattingly said. “You have to be close. I think we’ve shot ourselves in the foot a little bit with our base running lately.”