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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 05/16/2011

Nationals expect more after first 40 games


Starting pitcher Jason Marquis knows plenty about hard luck. The Nationals’ leader in wins this season has 101 in his career, but that total certainly could be higher if it weren’t for any number of occasions when he didn’t receive adequate run support or was the victim of defensive lapses behind him.

In yesterday’s 8-4 victory over Florida, Marquis not only got bountiful offensive production from his teammates, but he too contributed at the plate and earned the decision thanks also to timely defense late in the game when the bullpen was protecting lead.

Having all phases contributing to end Washington’s three-game losing streak left Marquis and several other players talking about how the Nationals’ 19-21 record could be considerably better if only a handful of breaks had fallen their way through the first quarter of the season.

“Man, it seems like we’re one pitch, one swing away from being five, six, seven games over .500,” said Marquis (5-1), who has won five of his past six decisions and lowered his ERA to 3.54 while increasing his batting average to .333. “We feel like we’re playing good baseball. We’ve lost a lot of close games, and I think if we keep doing what we’re doing, catch the ball, throw the ball, I think we’ll be fine.”

The Nationals had lost their previous three in a row by one run each. The first two of those came in extra innings on Thursday and Friday, and Saturday’s 1-0 setback was mostly because of Marlins ace Anibal Sanchez, who scattered three hits over eight innings before closer Leo Nunez collected his big league-best 14th save in as many chances.

But Sunday, the Nationals got a rare outburst at the plate in the first inning, racking up six runs against Florida starter Javier Vazquez while batting around and getting a two-RBI double from Marquis. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez had three RBI, and Jayson Werth and Roger Bernadina joined Rodriguez and Marquis with two hits apiece as Washington scored its most runs since an 8-6 victory over St. Louis on April 20.

The Marlins made it a bit interesting in the back half of the game, getting a pair of runs in the seventh to chase Marquis and make the score 7-4. The bullpen was up to the task though, even when Todd Coffey, who came on in relief of Marquis, left the game after a hard-hit ball struck just above his right elbow with two outs in the inning.

Tyler Clippard got the final out in the seventh and after walking the leadoff hitter in the eighth quickly escaped when first baseman Adam LaRoche caught a sizzling shot off the bat of Logan Morrison and tagged out Gaby Sanchez at first for the unassisted double play.

Defense, however, is about all LaRoche has been able to contribute this season. He’s mired in a maddening slump during which his batting average has dropped from .245 on April 17 to .193 following his 0-for-3 showing yesterday.

Last season LaRoche’s slash line was .261/.320/.468, and hit 25 homers with a career-best 100 RBI. Over his eight-year career, he is averaging 26 homers and 92 RBI per 162 games. This season he has three homers and 15 RBI. Although there was some thought a slightly torn labrum in his left shoulder could be the culprit, Riggleman said that’s not the case.

“We check with [LaRoche] about it, and he makes no excuses,” Riggleman said. “He says that has nothing to do with it. He’s been a big part of any win we’ve had with the defense he’s played.”

LaRoche also made a deft play in the ninth when he gloved Chris Coghlan’s sharply hit ball and tossed to reliever Cole Kimball, making his second appearance the day after he debuted in the majors, for the second out. For now, those plays in the field are serving to keep LaRoche engaged while he tries to get on track at the plate.

“It gets harder,” LaRoche said. “That’s something I’ve worked hard on over my career, when the at-bat’s over to let it go and remember I’ve got a job to do on the field. If we go out and let our guard down, we’re not just [hurting] ourselves. We’re doing that to the whole team, so that’s obviously a big part of it. Still frustrating, but a lot easier after a win.”

FROM THE POST

The Nationals used a six-run first to beat Florida, 8-4, and end a three-game losing streak.

FROM THE MINORS

Hagerstown 6, Lakewood 2: Bryce Harper had his 18-game hitting streak end, but the Suns broke open the road game with two in the seventh and three in the eighth.

Richmond 11, Harrisburg 4: Senators starter Tanner Roak surrendered 10 hits and five runs in 3 1/3 innings on the road.

Potomac 5, Wilmington 4: Destin Hood went 4 for 4 with a homer and three RBI for the Nationals at home.

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 05/16/2011

 
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