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For Nats rookie, the learning curve might just start with the curve

Nationals rookie Jackson Tetreault struggled with his location Saturday, walking five and lasting only four innings. (Nick Wass/AP)
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Jackson Tetreault’s formula for success in his brief stint in the majors has been predicated on his ability to throw his two primary pitches — a fastball and a cutter — for strikes. But it’s hard to have success at this level, let alone as a rookie starter, with just two pitches.

If one of those pitches doesn’t work, it can make for a short outing. That’s exactly what happened to Tetreault in the Washington Nationals’ 5-3 loss to the Miami Marlins on Saturday afternoon at Nationals Park. The loss was the Nationals’ 10th to the Marlins in 11 games.

“Today, to walk five guys like that, it’s unacceptable,” Tetreault said. “Putting the team in a bad spot. It doesn’t feel good, and, yeah, just really disappointed in myself.”

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The right-hander never quite found a feel for his fastball, a pitch he throws around 60 percent of the time. Of the 84 pitches he threw Saturday, 43 were fastballs and just 18 of those were strikes. Only one was a swing and miss.

After the game, Tetreault said his mechanics caused his fastball to have a bit more movement than usual, leading to a loss of location.

He walked Jon Berti to open the game on seven pitches and Berti stole second, his third swiped base in two games. Then the Marlins started to make hard contact.

Garrett Cooper flew out to right field at 91.5 mph. Jesús Aguilar mashed a homer at 104.9 mph to put the Marlins ahead 2-0. Jesús Sánchez ended the inning with a 106.8-mph groundout.

His pitch count ran up, and his fastballs continued to miss the target. Tetreault became more jumpy and frustrated after each miss.

“I think he was yanking; his extension might have been a little longer than normal,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “So we’ll take a look at it. His misses weren’t terrible, but they were misses. … Built his pitch count up.”

The Nationals (29-51) tied the game in the second with a two-run single from Tres Barrera. But Tetreault couldn’t take advantage of the chance to reset. He stuck with his fastball and cutter to no avail — he threw only six curveballs in his four innings of work.

The Marlins (36-40) added single runs in the third and fourth off Tetreault, the first coming from a fielder’s choice from Avisail Garcia, the second on Miguel Rojas’s sacrifice fly after Nick Fortes tripled to start the inning.

By the time he got Aguilar to ground into a double play to end his outing, his ledger had five walks, four hits and four earned runs, raising his ERA to 5.14.

Tetreault isn’t the only young Nationals pitcher who struggled for the same reasons — Joan Adon’s difficulties (6.97 ERA in 13 starts) were due in part to an overreliance on fastballs and curveballs before he was sent down to Class AAA Rochester with hopes he would get more comfortable throwing a change-up.

It’s unclear whether Tetreault, 26, is an important arm in the Washington rebuild in the long run. But if he wants to be an effective pitcher moving forward, he will need another reliable pitch on days such as Saturday when his best pitch isn’t there.

“I tried to go to my curveball to a couple of the guys, Sánchez and Aguilar, and had some success with it and probably should have kept trying it,” Tetreault said. “But kind of got away from it a little bit, so that’s a mistake on my end. I should have tried to mix in other pitches to see if I can find an arm slot or something and find something that’s working.”

How did the Nationals score their third run of the game? Juan Soto went to the opposite field for a home run in the sixth inning. Facing Marlins starter Daniel Castano for a third time through the order, Soto took a 1-0 cutter tailing away, and it carried out for a solo shot.

In the first at-bat, Castano walked him on four pitches down and away. The following at-bat, Castano took a similar approach, burying pitches away until Soto pulled a ball and grounded into a 3-6-3 double play. But the third time around, Soto waited until the ball got deep in the zone and took it to left field, ending Castano’s outing.

What did Aaron Barrett announce Saturday? Barrett, who pitched for the Nationals in two stints, 2014-15 and 2019-20, announced that his last professional appearance would come Monday.

Barrett suffered a broken humerus while pitching in 2016 and spent the next three years working his way back from the injury before making three appearances for Washington in 2019 and cried after his first outing. He is with the Philadelphia Phillies’ Class AAA affiliate, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.