Marlins Feast On Nats' Relievers

Loss Is Fourth In Past 5 Games: Marlins 9, Nationals 6

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 11, 2006; Page E01

This is supposed to be happening in New Orleans or Harrisburg or some other minor league hamlet where pitchers can implode and it is labeled part of the learning process, not a disaster. But in the Washington Nationals' position -- one that calls for equal parts duct tape, glue and hope just to hold things together -- minor leaguers must appear in major league games, and the outcome is somewhat predictable.

Last night, reliever Travis Hughes hit two batters and allowed two runs in a single inning, The Nationals fought back from a four-run deficit anyway. Enter the next minor leaguer, Ryan Wagner. And that decided the game, for Wagner gave up a two-out, two-run double to Wes Helms in the eighth inning, lifting the Florida Marlins to a 9-6 victory over the Nationals in front of an announced crowd of 21,304 at RFK Stadium.

The Marlins' Reggie Abercrombie is tagged out by Felipe Lopez on an attempted steal of second in the 2nd inning.
The Marlins' Reggie Abercrombie is tagged out by Felipe Lopez on an attempted steal of second in the 2nd inning. (By Kevin Wolf -- Associated Press)

These are the choices Manager Frank Robinson has now, guys who have spent scant time in the majors this season. Hughes and Wagner had combined for five big league appearances this year prior to last night. But Robinson can't use what has become his group of reliable relievers -- right-hander Jon Rauch, lefty Micah Bowie and closer Chad Cordero -- each and every game. So take a couple of antacids, make the trip to the mound, and hope.

"You know what you have going in," Robinson said. "And what you hope you do, is you hope you get a decent performance out of them when you call on them. One thing you're not going to have from them is consistency, that's the thing. You might get it one night, but you're not going to get it three or four nights" in a row.

The performance by the Nationals' bullpen -- Saul Rivera allowed another run in the ninth to make it five runs in three innings of work -- overshadowed so many other developments on the night, all of which added up to the Nationals' fourth loss in five games, two of three to the Marlins in this series. The game featured not only Alfonso Soriano's major league-leading 19th outfield assist -- perhaps his best defensive play of the year, one which he caught a sinking line drive off the bat of Miguel Cabrera and doubled a runner off first -- but also his 36th home run, a solo shot in the fourth that reached the mezzanine level in left field.

When the ball traveled out of the park, Soriano admired it, standing just a few steps away from the batter's box. By the time he came to the plate again in the seventh inning, the Nationals -- because Hughes had allowed a two-run homer to Dan Uggla in the top half of the frame -- trailed 6-2.

The Marlins countered by inserting right-hander Sergio Mitre, who hadn't pitched in a major league game since May 12 after battling shoulder problems. He was activated only Wednesday. Mitre's first big league pitch in three months was a fastball that ran inside on Soriano. Ball one.

"A warning," Robinson said, "should have been issued on the first pitch."

Yes, Soriano had watched his home run for quite some time. Yes, Hughes had, in the previous inning, hit Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who went 7 for 11 in the series. But Florida Manager Joe Girardi told reporters that Mitre was, considering the long layoff, rusty, and the Marlins' strategy is to pitch Soriano inside anyway.

So Mitre's second pitch was inside, as was his third.

"You're up four runs in the ball game, 3-0, nobody on, and you're the catcher," Robinson said. "You're going to sit behind the hitter inside? Is that what you're going to do? Of course not."

The fourth pitch never reached catcher Miguel Olivo. Instead, it hit Soriano. Home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom issued warnings to both teams.

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