Martin Prado’s best night of the season ended in the worst possible way.
Prado exited Friday’s 9-5 loss to the Nationals in the sixth when he suffered a left hamstring injury while running out a ground ball. He bent over after crossing the bag, walked gingerly leaving the field, and was helped down the dugout steps.
While the Marlins listed Prado as “day to day,” a common initial assessment, the injury did not appear minor.
"Obviously, it's not going to be a quick one," manager Don Mattingly said of Prado's recovery timetable.
Prado said an ultrasound revealed "significant" damage to the hamstring muscle fibers.
Asked whether he thought the injury could be career-ending, Prado replied: "It did cross my mind. But I'm not a quitter and I'm not going to quit yet."
The 34-year-old third baseman and beloved team leader for the Marlins missed more than 100 games last season with knee and hamstring injuries and began this season on the disabled list. He is making $13.5 million this season and is under guaranteed contract in 2019 for $15 million.
He had gotten off to a slow start at the plate and brought a .169 average into Friday. But he hit safely in each of his first three at bats against Nationals ace Max Scherzer before grounding to shortstop Trea Turner, who mishandled the ball for an error. With a single and two doubles, he did a lot of running on the base paths before his fourth and final trip to the plate.
Prado grimaced several strides before the bag and came up limping.
"When I saw that he dropped the ball, I was just trying to slow down," Prado said. "For some reason, I felt I pulled something. I didn't want to think it wasn't something minor. But, when I passed the bag, the pain was sharper and sharper."
After spending months working his way back from leg injuries last season, Prado was downcast knowing it could be more months of healing before he can get back on the field.
"I knew the challenge of coming back and just being healthy, the way I like to play this game," Prado said. "I knew it was going to be hard. It's just been a difficult year-and-a-half for me. I told Donnie and I told all my teammates, that if I'm not 100 percent, I'm not going to go out there and just make people feel sorry for me."
Replacing Prado at third base won’t be a problem. Rookie Brian Anderson had performed well there before Prado returned from the DL and forced his move to right field. Replacing him on the roster could be shortstop JT Riddle, who was taken out of his game with Triple A New Orleans on Friday shortly after Prado suffered his injury.
But Prado was the undisputed leader inside the clubhouse and an established veteran presence at the top of the lineup. His injury seemed to take the wind out of the Marlins, who had held their own against Scherzer, mounting two separate game-tying comebacks.
"That was a tough one to watch, knowing what Martin's been through," Mattingly said. "You just feel for him. Martin cares so much. You want everybody to care like Martin cares and basically play like he does. I think that's why those guys look up to him."
The Marlins staged their first comeback in the fourth when Miguel Rojas battled through a 7-pitch at bat, fouling off consecutive two-strike pitches before sending a two-out, two-run single into center.
After Matt Adams put Washington back on top with a two-run homer off Jose Urena in the sixth, the Marlins answered in their half of the inning on Derek Dietrich’s two-run blast off Scherzer into the second deck.
But it quickly unraveled when Prado left the game.
"It seemed like the whole game when right down the tubes as soon as that happened to him," Mattingly said. "Nothing really went right after that."
The Nationals struck for three runs in the seventh off relievers Nick Wittgren and Adam Conley.