Nationals fall to Marlins, 9-5

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 12, 2010; 12:53 AM

At 7:07 Wednesday night, Scott Olsen threw his first pitch, a 92 mph fastball to Hanley Ramirez. In accordance with an incentive in his contract, Olsen made himself $250,000. Precisely 45 minutes later, Olsen walked off the mound, his glove over his mouth, surely wishing he could change everything else about his short, brutal night.

Olsen's worst start of the season preceded the Washington Nationals' fourth consecutive loss, a 9-5 defeat to the Florida Marlins before 15,061 at Nationals Park. Olsen lasted 12/3 innings, the 14th time this year a Nationals starter pitched four or fewer. His ineffectiveness rendered Adam Dunn's 31st home run a means to extend his National League lead and a cosmetic upgrade on the scoreboard.

Of the 15 batters Olsen faced, he retired five and put 10 on base. He surrendered eight hits, most of them screaming line drives, none of them cheap. With two outs in the first inning, the Marlins ripped four consecutive hits that scored four runs. In total, Olsen allowed seven earned runs and his ERA shot to 5.11. He had watched tape of his start in its entirety before the game ended, and he came to a conclusion.

"Making absolutely horse [manure] pitches," Olsen said. "Simple as that."

Olsen actually had his strongest fastball of the season. He entered with a fastball that averaged 89.5 mph. On Wednesday, he threw 92 with regularity and topped out at 94. "Obviously," Olsen said, "it didn't help."

If anything, it may have hurt. In his first two starts off the disabled list, Olsen attacked the strike zone and piled up groundball outs. He pitched with precision, and on Wednesday that control went missing.

"He threw hard," catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. "To be able to throw 91, 93, you have to be able to locate it. Today, he was just behind in the count. It's just a matter of locating his fastball, and today he didn't locate his fastball."

Olsen threw 56 pitches, or 13 fewer than Miguel Batista, his rubber-armed replacement from the bullpen, threw in 41/3 innings.

One day after relieving Stephen Strasburg for six batters, Batista gave the Nationals a glimmer of hope by allowing no earned runs on two hits. Ian Desmond smoked two home runs, the first multi-homer game of his career, giving him nine in his rookie season. In the sixth, Roger Bernadina launched a fly ball to the warning track with a runner on that, had it gone over the fence, would have made it a two-run game.

"I think our guys played hard," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "I know sometimes people get tired of hearing anything positive when you lose ballgames. But I thought we played with great effort. We hit the ball well. Our guys got after it real good."

But Olsen's debacle at the start eliminated much chance of victory. He knew it would be financially meaningful regardless of the outcome. Olsen signed a one-year, $1 million contract this offseason packed with incentives, a way for the Nationals to mitigate risk on a pitcher coming off of major elbow surgery.

Olsen, despite a bout with shoulder inflammation that demanded about two months of rehab, earned his way to the first major threshold by making 10 starts before Wednesday. He makes $250,00 in his 11th and 12th starts and $100,000 for each start after. Before Wednesday, Olsen had gone 3-3 with a 4.12 ERA this year. The Nationals' gamble had been worth it, and Olsen had earned his 11th outing.

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