Mike Redmond wants the Marlins to continue to play hard down the stretch despite being eliminated from playoff contention.
His team did again Sunday against one of baseball’s best pitchers.
But the 2-1 loss to the postseason-bound Washington Nationals and ace Stephen Strasburg didn’t hurt as much as losing another key starter to injury.
Marcell Ozuna sprained his right ankle in the seventh inning of Sunday’s game and will likely miss the final week of the regular season.
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“It’s a sprained ligament and I need like two weeks,” said Ozuna, who was seen with his right foot in a walking boot in the clubhouse after the game and was walking on crutches. “I was thanking God for giving me a good season, and I know it’s going to be OK.”
Ozuna, in his first full season as the team’s starting center fielder, became one of the Marlins’ top hitters this season with a .269 average, 23 home runs and 85 RBI.
But that’s likely what his final line for 2014 will be after his right foot twisted awkwardly in the bottom of the seventh as he was done stretching out a double off Strasburg.
Ozuna immediately collapsed in pain and after a couple of minutes on the ground, was helped slowly to the dugout by team trainers.
The Marlins said X-rays of Ozuna’s ankle were negative.
“I saw the throw coming in and I thought I got it,” Ozuna said. “Then I turned around and thought of going to third, but my spike got caught and never came up. It’s tough. I was crying because I had a good season. And now, this happens.”
The injury comes in the wake of the Marlins already losing All-Star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton for the season after he was hit in the face by a pitch Sept. 10 at Milwaukee.
“It’s not good for us,” Redmond said. “We definitely can’t lose anybody else out of that lineup. We’re piecing it together and grinding it out already, so yeah, I don’t really know what to say. That’s just another blow for us.”
The injuries may be mounting, but with seven games remaining (three against the Phillies at home and four on the road against the Nationals), it should give the Marlins a chance to look at some of their younger outfielders.
One of them is utility player Enrique “Kike” Hernandez, who was acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline from the Houston Astros in the deal that brought starting pitcher Jarred Cosart to the Marlins.
Hernandez made his first career start in right field Sunday after making three previous starts in the infield after being called up at the beginning of the month.
Hernandez showed his athleticism Sunday when he made a great snow-cone catch in right field Sunday to keep the Nationals off the scoreboard in the fourth inning.
Strasburg pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only three hits and striking out five with only two walks as he beat the Marlins (74-81), a team he came in only 2-4 against for his career, for the second time this season and first time on the road. He improved to 8-5 against the Marlins for his career and extended his scoreless inning streak to 14 and his major league-leading strikeout total for the season to 235.
Strasburg, who is four years removed from Tommy John surgery, has made over 30 starts each of the past two seasons and has pitched over 200 innings this season for the first time in his career.
“You look at that pitching staff over there, and it’s the best pitching staff in the National League, right?” Redmond said. “Those guys keep coming. It probably doesn’t matter what lineup they throw out there with that pitching. They have that ability to shut you down. I don’t know if that’s the best I’ve ever seen him, but he made his pitches. He executed. We really didn’t get a lot going. He kept us off balance.”
Although the Marlins lost their fourth game in a row, they got a solid outing from right-handed pitcher Nathan Eovaldi for the first time in September. Eovaldi went six innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and struck out four. Eovaldi dropped to 1-9 since the All-Star break, and has not won a decision since Aug. 8 at Cincinnati.
“I still had a rough inning in the fifth and even the fourth when [Hernandez] made that great catch, but I was able to bounce back and move the ball well to both sides of the plate and make some good pitches,” Eovaldi said.
The Nationals started to hit the ball hard off Eovaldi in the third.
Washington finally broke through when right fielder Nate Schierholtz lined a fastball into the right-center field gap for a triple that scored catcher Jose Lobaton. After Strasburg grounded out, third baseman Anthony Rendon hit a line drive down the left field line that scored Schierholtz, giving the Nationals a 2-0 lead. Lobaton started the inning with a double when he dropped a fly ball just out of the reach of Christian Yelich.
The Marlins got their only run in the ninth, capitalizing on a leadoff double by pinch-hitter Reed Johnson. Donovan Solano hit a sacrifice fly to right to score Johnson. But Nationals closer Rafael Soriano limited the damage and picked up his 32nd save of the season.
Marlins closer Steve Cishek was honored prior to Sunday’s game as the club’s nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.
Cishek, who has 30 or more saves each of the past two seasons, had converted 37 of 41 save opportunities entering Sunday’s game, and had gone 6 for 6 in September without allowing a run in seven appearances, is one of 30 finalists for the award that recognizes a player that best represents baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.
▪ Monday: Off.
▪ Tuesday: Marlins RHP Henderson Alvarez (11-6, 2.82) vs. Philadelphia Phillies LHP Cole Hamels (9-7, 2.47), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
▪ Wednesday: Marlins LHP Brad Hand (3-8, 4.59) vs. Phillies RHP Kyle Kendrick (9-13, 4.73), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.