The loss, coupled with the Cincinnati Reds’ victory, left the Nationals eight games out of playoff position with 22 games to play.
“It’s not looking good, that’s for sure,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “We’re in a spot now where we really can’t afford another loss. It puts you in a tough place, a bad place. You know, keep grinding. It’s not over until it’s over.”
The weekend schedule seemed to provide the Nationals a perfect confluence. As they started a three-game set with the lowly Marlins, the Reds began a series against the powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers. The Nationals played the team with the worst record in the National League, and the team they were chasing for the second wild-card spot played the one with the best. If the Nationals were going to make a serious run, it would happen this weekend.
The schedule did not account for Fernandez, the Marlins’ 21-year-old force of nature. “Shoo-in for rookie of the year,” Manager Davey Johnson said. He may be more than that. Is there a better pitcher on the planet this side of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw? It may be hard, after Friday night, to find a Nationals hitter willing to answer in the affirmative.
“I knew we weren’t going to get many,” Johnson said. “You’re up against a buzz saw.”
Fernandez allowed one hit — only Walters’s nubber — and two walks with nine strikeouts over seven scoreless innings. Fernandez overwhelmed the Nationals with laser-guided fastballs and knee-shaking curveballs and sprinkled in devilish change-ups just for fun. He struck out every Nationals starter except Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos. He struck out Ian Desmond three times on 12 pitches.
“His stuff is good,” Werth said. “You see him okay. You’re dealing with a lot of fastball. But you haven’t seen him a lot.”
Off the top of his head, Werth believed Cleveland Indians starters Justin Masterson and Corey Kluber had thrown the toughest games at the Nationals this season. Fernandez is “definitely up there,” Werth said. “This guy has been one of the best pitchers in the NL.”
Fernandez retired the first nine batters he faced in 36 pitches with five strikeouts. Meanwhile, the Marlins blasted Haren. The first four hitters he faced all reached, starting with Chris Coghlan’s double to the left field corner and ending with Giancarlo Stanton’s two-RBI single up the middle. In the third inning, Logan Morrison launched Haren’s 88-mph fastball into orbit, a two-run homer that landed five rows deep in the upper deck, an estimated 484 feet from home plate.