Miami Marlins

Pitching disappoints again as Marlins fall to Nationals

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Justin Nicolino delivers a pitch against the Washington Nationals during the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, in Washington.
Miami Marlins starting pitcher Justin Nicolino delivers a pitch against the Washington Nationals during the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, in Washington. AP

Dan Jennings second-guessed his decision to stick with Brad Hand “a batter or two” too long on Saturday. Jennings might have had that same gnawing feeling Sunday when he allowed Justin Nicolino to continue in a make-or-break moment.

That decision backfired, too.

With two outs in the sixth inning and the Marlins down 4-2, Nicolino coughed up a 3-run homer to Tyler Moore that all but sealed their fate in a 13-3 beat-down to Washington.

“Obviously, hindsight, I should have went to get him,” Jennings said. “That ended up being just too big of a mountain to climb.”

The Marlins aren’t playing for much of anything with two weeks to go, and Jennings has said he’s using the final stage of the season as an audition for some of the team’s younger players.

Accordingly, he’s managing differently than he would if the Marlins were still in the hunt and the outcomes held any significance.

Jennings used Jose Urena in an atypical, eighth-inning setup spot on Friday, for example. Urena couldn’t protect the lead and the Marlins ended up losing.

And if Nicolino is going to prove himself worthy of a rotation spot in 2016, Jennings figures the Marlins need to see if the lefty can weather tough spots, such as the one he found himself in on Sunday.

The Nationals had just extended their lead to 4-2 on Wilson Ramos’ sacrifice fly. But with two still aboard, Jennings elected to have Nicolino work out of the spot.

“Just giving them that opportunity to battle through that,” Jennings explained. “As a manager, you’re sitting there going, OK, can I go get him? Yeah, I can. I give him a chance to fight out of it. It’s a tremendous builder in confidence.”

But Moore walloped Nicolino’s very first pitch over the wall, prompting Jennings to then go to his bullpen.

“Looking back, probably the time to go get him was after the sac fly, but I didn’t do it, so that’s on me,” Jennings said.

Not that matters suddenly improved.

The Nationals put the game out of reach by scoring three runs on Scott McGough, who failed to retire a batter, and Washington — winners of three in a row over Miami — ended up capturing the season series as a result, 10-9.

The Marlins were held in check Sunday by Stephen Strasburg, who struck out 10 over seven innings.

Spoilers no more

There is no more spoiling left to be done for the Marlins. All of their remaining 12 games are against sub-.500 teams, none of which are in contention.

Following an off day Monday, the Marlins open their final home stand Tuesday with a three-game set against the last-place Phillies before closing out the home slate against the sputtering Braves.

Then it’s off to Tampa and Philadelphia to wrap up the season.

Still in race

Dee Gordon lost ground to Bryce Harper for the National League batting title during the Washington series. But he edged closer to the Reds’ Billy Hamilton for the stolen base lead.

Gordon stole his 53rd base Sunday, putting him four behind Hamilton, who has not been playing due to an ailing shoulder. It’s uncertain whether Hamilton will play again this season.

Harper padded his lead on Gordon in the batting race by going 3 for 4 on Sunday, while the Marlins’ second baseman had one hit in four at bats. Harper is now hitting .343 to Gordon’s .332.

COMING UP:

▪ Monday: Off day

▪ Tuesday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler (10-13, 3.90) vs. Phillies (TBA), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.

Clark Spencer: 305-376-3483, @clarkspencer

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