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Nationals Reach a New Low

Team Drops Season-High Eighth Consecutive Game: Marlins 9, Nationals 5

Florida second baseman Dan Uggla gets Washington's Pete Orr out to start a double play and snuff out what could have been a big second inning for the Nationals. Orr went 1 for 3 with an RBI and a run scored Saturday.
Florida second baseman Dan Uggla gets Washington's Pete Orr out to start a double play and snuff out what could have been a big second inning for the Nationals. Orr went 1 for 3 with an RBI and a run scored Saturday. (By Luis Alvarez -- Associated Press)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 6, 2009

Nationals right-hander Liván Hernández was acquired last month to eat innings and save wear and tear on the arms of some of the team's young pitching prospects.

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Hernández did that in his first two starts, but Saturday night in a 9-5 home loss to Florida, Hernández did not so much eat innings as he did nibble around the plate, missing the strike zone on more than half his pitches in Washington's season-high eighth consecutive loss in front of a largely indifferent crowd of 18,111.

In fact, Hernández needed 34 pitches to get out of the first inning and required 107 offerings to labor through his five-inning stint against the team he won a World Series with in 1997.

"He threw a lot of pitches that were right around the plate that I think he generally would get people to swing at," Washington interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "But there are a lot of guys on that club who have seen him a lot, and they're professional hitters. They did a good job laying off some very tough pitches, which got themselves in some better counts."

"You try to keep the ball down, but they don't swing at the good pitch down and when I leave something up, they're hitting it," Hernández said.

The Nationals, who swept the Marlins here in early August but who have been outscored 46-20 in the eight straight losses, went down in order in the third, fourth and fifth, at which point Florida all-star right-hander Josh Johnson called it a night after giving up two hits, walking three and striking out one. He retired the last 11 batters he faced.

Hernández, starting for the third time since being picked up after the Mets released him Aug. 23, had pitched quite well in his first two outings back with the Nationals, striking out 10 and walking three in 14 innings, including a complete-game loss in San Diego when he retired 18 of 19 batters during one stretch.

The right-hander who threw the first pitch in Nationals history, both home and away in 2005, and was the team's first all-star, left after five innings with a stat line of eight hits, six earned runs, four walks and six strikeouts.

The Nationals' first run came in the second, when Adam Dunn singled to right, and Josh Willingham and Elijah Dukes walked to load the bases off Johnson. Pete Orr singled to right to score Dunn, but Wil Nieves struck out and Hernández grounded into a double play to end the threat.

"We put together great at-bats in the second inning and just couldn't finish the inning off," Riggleman said. "If we get a little more in that inning, it changes the complexion of the game a little.

"Offensively, nobody overmatches us. On a given night, we're going to put hits and runs out there. We do that as much as anybody. Overall we just haven't pitched good enough. We're last in the league in pitching, and that's just going to have to change."

Ryan Zimmerman reached on an infield hit and throwing error with two outs in the sixth but was stranded. Elijah Dukes tripled with one out in the seventh and Orr followed with a walk. Wil Nieves singled to center to knock in Dukes, and pinch hitter Josh Bard stroked an RBI double that right fielder Cody Ross charged and dived for but could not glove.

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