Don Mattingly just grinned when a hypothetical about the heart of the Washington Nationals’ order was posed to him before the Miami Marlins continued a three-game series in Washington on Saturday. Anthony Rendon, the Nationals’ No. 3 hitter, smacked a walk-off hit on Friday as Juan Soto waited in the on-deck circle and a theory was posed to the manager a day later about potentially walking the MVP hopeful to get to a mere All-Star.
It was an impossible dilemma Friday. Saturday was the proof.
Rendon and Soto, again batting third and fourth in Washington’s lineup, combined to go 3 for 3 with a double, two home runs, three RBIs, four runs and a hit by pitch in their two chances against Pablo Lopez. By the time they and the Nationals chased the starting pitcher after three innings, the Marlins were crashing toward a franchise record 14th straight road loss and mathematical elimination from the postseason with a 7-0 rout.
“Those two right there together are a tough combo to get through,” Mattingly said. “Those two are a handful.”
Now 25 games out of the second Wild Card spot, Miami (48-87) can officially be eliminated from playoff contention as early as Monday with a combination of three losses and Chicago Cubs wins.
The final month of the season will be meaningless for the Marlins, so one of their top priorities is getting a strong finish from Lopez. The right-handed pitcher spent more than two months on the injured list with a shoulder strain before he returned to face the Cincinnati Reds on Monday.
His first outing was a mixed bag and he battled through five innings against a middling team. The Nationals (76-58) wouldn’t make a second try so simple.
Lopez (5-7) handled the first two batters Saturday before the devastating duo of Rendon and Soto stepped to the plate. In two batters, the pitcher’s outing started to unravel.
After the crowd of 27,539 chanted “M-V-P,” Rendon fouled off three pitches to work a full count and eventually get a 94-mph over the middle of the plate. The third baseman turned and launched a solo home run 402 feet over the left-field fence at Nationals Park. Two pitches later, Soto got a changeup on the outside of the plate and the left-handed outfielder launched it to nearly the exact same place in the left-field stands.
“It didn’t look like he had any kind of secondary going to get a breaking ball really over and that’s the trouble with that club over there,” Mattingly said. “You’re not getting something secondary over to slow them down a little bit, you start getting in fastball mode and I don’t know if anybody’s quite got enough to get through them like that.”
An inning later, Stephen Strasburg drove in a run with a single. In the third, Lopez hit Rendon with a pitch and served up an RBI double to Soto. With two outs, he coughed up another home run, this time to catcher Kurt Suzuki, and his day was over as soon as he got out of the inning. In his second outing off the IL, Lopez lasted only three innings and 63 pitches, giving up six runs on six hits with just one strikeout.
Lopez threw 20 breaking balls and only got two swinging strikes. More than half of his off-speed pitches were balls.
“I feel like my fastball was there. Some I didn’t execute as well, but I didn’t have anything else working to back it up,” Lopez said. “It’s hard when you don’t have that against a lineup like the Washington Nationals’.”
Strasburg (16-5) went five innings longer than Lopez, striking out 14 and recording 23 straight outs to finish his eight shutout innings. He now has the second best career ERA against Miami and the second most strikeouts.
The only positive the Marlins could take away from a lopsided night was Lopez’s health. Miami would love for Lopez to get back to being his steady self in the final month of the season, but the Marlins would like even more for him to just get through September healthy and confident.
Lopez’s limited outing had nothing to do with any discomfort in his right shoulder. He wanted to come back out for the third inning, Mattingly just decided he wanted the starter to regroup. He only has about five starts left in 2019 and Miami wants make sure he gets back to a comfortable place before the end of the season.
“I just thought, Enough,” Mattingly said. “We just needed to start over with him.”
Marlins expect trio of injured players to return Sunday
Rosters expand to 40 players Sunday and the Marlins expect they’ll be taking advantage by getting some key contributors back on the active roster.
Tayron Guerrero arrived in Washington on Saturday, joining injured teammates Jose Urena and Miguel Rojas as injured Marlins at Nationals Park ready to be activated for a series finale against Washington on Sunday.
“Tayron traveled here, so obviously tomorrow the rosters expand,” manager Don Mattingly said. “We feel like he’s ready to go.”
Miami placed Guerrero on the 15-day injured list with a torn fingernail Aug. 9. The relief pitcher has just a 5.69 ERA this season, but could continue to get looks in high-leverage situations down the stretch because of his 100-mph fastball and strikeout potential. He made a pair of rehab appearances with Class A Advanced Jupiter and Triple A New Orleans earlier in the week.
Rojas has also been on the IL since earlier this month. The infielder went on the IL with a right hamstring strain Aug. 6 after establishing himself as the Marlins’ everyday shortstop and leadoff hitter. He’s slated to return Sunday after spending Friday and Saturday with the team following a rehab stint. Rojas played five games with the Jupiter Hammerheads and New Orleans Baby Cakes from Aug. 23 through Thursday, going 5 for 18 with a home run.
“We wanted to give him a couple days off before activating him, but we’re feeling good,” Mattingly said. “We feel like he’s ready to go.”
Urena has been out the longest. The starting pitcher went on the 60-day IL in June because of a herniated disc in his lower back and is also likely to return Sunday, now as a relief pitcher. Urena made two shutout appearances out of the bullpen for the Baby Cakes on Tuesday and Wednesday, and he’ll get chances as Miami’s closer in the final month of the season.