It took six starts, but Mat Latos’ quest for his first win in a Marlins uniform is finally over.
A night after failing to protect leads in the seventh and eighth innings, the Marlins relief staff provided some, locking down a tense 2-1 victory over Washington in front of 25,332 at Nationals Park.
“I’m getting used to those,” said manager Mike Redmond, who celebrated his 44th birthday Tuesday and is now 3-0 as a skipper on his birthday. “We’ve seen a lot here in the last three years, played some tight games. They’re not always perfect, but our guys keep playing, keep battling. We’ll make some mistakes here and there and we’re able to overcome them.”
The Marlins had to overcome a big mistake in the ninth.
After Wilson Ramos singled to start the frame, the Dee Gordon and Adeiny Hechavarria botched what appeared to be a routine double play. Hechavarria was charged with the error, his second of the season, when he failed to catch a low, hard throw from Gordon.
Instead of an easy save, closer Steve Cishek recorded the last three outs on his own. He fielded a bunt from Dan Uggla and threw the lead runner out at third and then struck out Michael Taylor and Tyler Moore to end the game and record his third save of the season.
“Those guys are incredible over there ‒ nine times out of 10, even probably a better percentage than that they are going to make that play,” Cishek said of Hechavarria and Gordon. “I wasn’t concerned with it. It was over. My job was still to put a zero up on the board and that was all I was concerned with doing.”
Two innings earlier, before Gordon extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a two-out triple in the ninth, he made the most important play of the game with his glove. He fully extended himself on a hard-hit ball up the middle to rob pinch-hitter Clint Robinson of what would have been a game-tying hit with two outs in the seventh.
Nationals starter Steve Strasburg lasted only three innings before exiting with an apparent shoulder injury.
The Marlins scored both their runs off him in the second. J.T. Realmuto tripled and scored on Ichiro Suzuki’s seventh RBI of the season. Ichiro then scored two batters later when Strasburg made an errant throw to first on a Latos bunt.
Strasburg was seen grimacing after throwing a pitch to Marcell Ozuna in the first inning. His manager, pitching coach and trainer came out to check on him in the second. The Nationals described the injury as right shoulder irritation.
Strasburg might be the bigger story in the long run, but Latos was the big one for the Marlins on Tuesday.
Traditionally a slow starter in April (4-11, 4.74 ERA in 24 career starts), Latos struck out six and allowed just two hits over 6 1/3 innings. More importantly, he survived a career-high tying five walks.
“Brutal,” Latos said of the walks. “Just being dumb. Trying to fool a guy instead of going after what’s working. It’s stupid. It’s selfish of me and I’m glad it didn’t cost me. Five walks against a team like that in a tight ballgame, I’m grateful it didn’t cost us a loss.”
Latos needed only seven pitches to zip through the first inning, but the Nationals made him work in the second.
Ryan Zimmerman fouled off several pitches and drew an 11-pitch leadoff walk before eventually coming around to score after Ramos doubled to right and Uggla grounded out to third. Wilson, though, was stranded at third when Latos froze Michael Taylor on a change-up.
The Nationals got a leadoff single in the fourth from pitcher Doug Fister, who went in to pinch-hit for Strasburg. But he was quickly wiped off the board with a 4-6-3 double play.
The bottom of the sixth had the look of a troublesome inning after Latos walked Yunel Escobar and then fell behind 3-0 on Bryce Harper. But Latos battled back and struck out Harper looking before getting Zimmerman to bounce out to short.
Since giving up seven earned runs on six hits and failing to get out of the first inning in his first start, Latos has slowly worked his ERA down to 5.60 by giving up only 10 earned runs on 24 hits and 12 walks over his last 26 2/3 innings. That’s an ERA of 3.38.
“That was probably the best I’ve felt all year,” Latos said. “My [velocity] was a little higher than normal earlier in the game, the first four innings or so. I had good command of my curveball, better command of my slider and my changeup as well. It was good to mix them all together and pitch downhill like I need to and pound the bottom of the strike zone.”