The Marlins are seeing the Wei-Yin Chen lately they hoped to get when they signed him before the 2016 season.
But once again, it didn’t translate to victory.
Chen pitched his longest and best outing in his two-plus seasons as a Marlin on Saturday, but was unable to come away with the victory as the Nationals rallied for a 4-1 victory.
"Tough one obviously with Wei-Yin really good," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "We checked with J.T. every inning to see what he had left in the tank. He was really good."
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Chen threw 7 1/3 shutout innings before Washington second baseman Wilmer Difo hit an 84.8 mph slider that ran over the heart of the plate off the left field foul pole to tie the game at 1 with one out in the eighth inning.
First baseman Mark Reynolds then led off the ninth with a 390-foot homer to left center off Brad Ziegler that started a three-run frame for the Nationals (28-22). It was the second time in his past four appearances that Ziegler allowed three or more runs in the ninth inning. The Marlins lost their 10th consecutive game against the Nationals.
Ziegler, who is 9 for 9 in save opportunities this season, has a 1.04 ERA in such situations (8 2/3 innings), allowing one run on seven hits with five strikeouts and no walks. In non-save situations, Ziegler is 0-4 with a 11.57 ERA, allowing 18 earned runs on 25 hits (three home runs) on four walks and 10 strikeouts.
"It's really frustrating that every time there's a save situation, I feel locked in and I throw really well," Ziegler said. "Today I felt locked in when I went out there and it just didn't go well for whatever reason. I can't explain it. I don't know what the difference is but obviously I'm going to do my best to fight through it."
Chen’s outing was his longest since Aug. 10, 2015 when he threw 7 1/3 innings for the Orioles in Seattle. His previous longest start for the Marlins came in Seattle also on April 18, 2017 when he tossed seven no-hit innings.
"I tried to attack hitters in different locations," Chen said. "It's been a long time since I pitched into the eighth inning so I tried not to overthink. I think if you can do that, the results will come."
Chen recorded six strikeouts including three by Bryce Harper. At one point, Chen retired 13 consecutive hitters, often locating his off-speed pitches well and inducing a lot of bad contact from the Nationals’ lineup.
Over his past three starts, Chen has pitched 17 innings, allowing three earned runs on 11 hits and six walks while striking out 14 for a 1.59 ERA during that span.
"I've been feeling really good lately and my teammates have been supporting me like [J.T. Realmuto] calling a great game behind the plate and I know I have an excellent defense behind me making great plays," Chen said. "With all that support I was able to pitch more naturally and not have to think about too much stuff."
The Marlins (19-32), whose lone run came on a Brian Anderson single in the fourth, couldn’t capitalize on a great scoring chance in the bottom of the eighth.
J.T. Realmuto, who had three hits, doubled two batters after pinch hitter Cameron Maybin singled to give the Marlins runners on second and third and one out. Justin Bour grounded to first and Mark Reynolds fired to the plate to get Maybin out and prevent the tying run from scoring. Reliever Justin Miller ended the inning by striking out Starlin Castro.
The Marlins also had a chance to add a run to the one Anderson drove in back in the fourth when Miguel Rojas appeared to beat the relay throw on a double play. The Marlins challenged the original out call to no avail as it stood after review.
JT Riddle, who was recalled from the minors before the game, made his season debut going 0 for 4. Riddle started at shortstop after getting the call in the wake of Martin Prado suffering a left hamstring strain in Friday night's loss. Miguel Rojas started at third base.