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With many of the kids watching, the Nationals fold to Marlins’ ace

Marlins ace Sandy Alcántara was no match for the Nationals on Saturday, allowing just one run and three hits over eight innings. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

MIAMI — The Washington Nationals helped juice the attendance at LoanDepot Park on Saturday night, busing in a big group of the minor leaguers participating in the instructional league at their facility in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The game they saw: A 4-1 loss for the Nationals against the Miami Marlins and their stingy ace, Sandy Alcántara. At 2 hours 18 minutes, it matched Washington’s fastest nine-inning contest of the season.

The Cy Young favorite handled the Nationals again, scattering a run and three hits across 99 pitches and eight dominant innings. Erick Fedde, meanwhile, yielded four runs in 5⅔ innings and wasn’t helped much by Washington’s defense. JJ Bleday’s two-run single in the first could have been caught by either Lane Thomas or Victor Robles in right-center. The sixth inning could have ended before Miguel Rojas’s RBI double, though Ildemaro Vargas and Joey Meneses couldn’t connect to retire Bryan De La Cruz. In between, De La Cruz beat Fedde with a solo homer in the fourth.

And the rest of the experience for the minor leaguers: Meeting with Manager Dave Martinez and General Manager Mike Rizzo before the contest — plus sitting in very close proximity to their ultimate dreams.

“It’s nice to see those guys. I know we’re going to see them a lot more here in the future,” Martinez said. “Those guys who come to instructional league, it’s a jump-start to their career moving forward. These are the guys that we really feel like have an opportunity to get better, get better quick and come up here to help us in some form.

“So it was nice to go out there and introduce myself.”

During warmups, some of the Nationals’ top prospects were scattered in four rows beyond the third base line. Among them were teenage outfielders James Wood and Elijah Green, righties Jackson Rutledge and Andry Lara, flame-throwing Jarlin Susana and switch-hitting T.J. White. Infielder Sammy Infante, a second-round pick in 2021, translated the messages from Rizzo and Martinez for the Latin American guys. When the short talks ended, Green, an 18-year-old outfielder selected fifth overall by the Nationals this summer, was surrounded by autograph hounds.

When could one of them reach the majors? That’s nothing but a guessing game. But on the field ahead of first pitch — then in the lineup against Alcántara — was hard proof of the Nationals’ willingness to fast-track players.

Israel Pineda, a 22-year-old catcher, was bound for the instructional league before he spent six games with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings and was promoted in place of the injured Keibert Ruiz. On Saturday, he backed up Riley Adams, stopping in front of his recent peers to chat with a few members of the player development staff.

Cade Cavalli, 24, debuted this month and is in Miami rehabbing his shoulder with Washington’s medical staff. Luis García, 22 and younger than Rutledge, the club’s first-round pick in 2019, started at second and batted second. CJ Abrams, 21 and having arrived in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell return with Wood and Susana, played short and dropped down a bunt single in the second.

Soon, then, the youth movement could include a player who wore jeans and a button-down shirt to watch the Nationals in Miami. Who knows, maybe it will include two or three or four.

“What I did notice: We got some big kids,” Martinez said. “We got some studs down there, so I’m looking forward to actually getting my hands on them and start working with them a little bit as well.

Who collected hits off Alcántara? Meneses (homer in the first), Abrams (bunt single in the second) and Alex Call (single in the fourth). Call actually reached in all three of his at-bats, doing so with a walk and that hit and by taking a 99-mph sinker to the forearm. He has reached in six of his seven plate appearances against Alcántara, whom he hadn’t faced before last week. Thomas, meanwhile, dropped to 0 for 15 with nine strikeouts when Alcántara is on the mound. Alcántara struck out 11.

“It’s unbelievable, his ability to throw three pitches so aggressively in the zone and make guys also so uncomfortable,” Fedde said of Alcántara. “As an opposing pitcher, he doesn’t let you have a lot of time to breathe either. He’s having a great year and is probably going to win the Cy Young.”

What’s the latest on Patrick Corbin? Because of Corbin’s back spasms, the Nationals will skip his next turn and see whether he can return for one more start before the offseason. That puts a hole in the rotation for Wednesday, as the club is also unsure if Josiah Gray will pitch again. Corbin, 33, exited his previous outing after just 10 pitches. Aside from a brief stint on the coronavirus-related injured list last year, he hasn’t gone to the IL since signing a six-year, $140 million deal with Washington before the 2019 season. Without him facing the Atlanta Braves, the Nationals will turn to Cory Abbott on Monday, Paolo Espino on Tuesday and a to-be-determined pitcher for the finale.

Later in the week, Washington has to cover four games in three days against the Philadelphia Phillies, including a doubleheader Oct. 1. Should the Nationals need a depth arm from the 40-man roster, Joan Adon and Tommy Romero are options. MacKenzie Gore could be, too; the lefty is expected to make a fourth rehab appearance with the Red Wings on Monday.

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