The unofficial motto of the Washington Nationals these days is “We’ll see how it feels tomorrow.” They say it so often, it’s part of their rhythm — “We’ll see how it feels tomorrow.”
Two of the Nationals uttered the phrase after Tuesday night’s 7-3 loss to the Miami Marlins, and a few more might have said it if they had been there to be asked.
For a team that has been largely unchallenged since the season began, able to look to October since early April, the Nationals are — almost to a man, these days — relentlessly day-to-day.
Manager Dusty Baker was the first to say it after the game, and perhaps that was fitting. Baker was so hobbled in the dugout Tuesday that he could not walk out to argue with umpires and needed help climbing down the dugout stairs.
But the Nationals’ 68-year-old skipper was not talking about his sore knee when he said, “We’ll see how it feels tomorrow.”
He was talking about second baseman Daniel Murphy, who did not start Tuesday because he has a sore hip. Murphy was one of the few seemingly healthy Nationals left, and he was well enough to pinch-hit in the ninth inning Tuesday. He lined out.
By that time, the Nationals had exhausted their many chances to come back. Their lineup, made porous by preexisting injuries, went 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position, left nine men on base and hit into three double plays.
That lineup included three Opening Day regulars, three intended bench players and three players who began this season in the minor leagues.
One of the final group, Adrian Sanchez, chipped in three hits, his first career multihit game. One of those hits came in the midst of what was quickly becoming an encouraging seventh-inning rally.
But Sanchez miscounted the outs a few moments later and was doubled up on Ryan Zimmerman’s line drive to left. Zimmerman hit into two double plays and was involved in the third, though the one with Sanchez probably should not be counted against him.
Another of those recent minor leaguers thrust into duty, Brian Goodwin, doubled twice and is now second among National League rookies with 20 doubles. Goodwin has played in 70 games this season, more than Trea Turner, more than Jayson Werth, and two fewer than Michael A. Taylor. Those players are all still working their way back from injury. Their status, like everyone’s perhaps, changes day to day.
The third recent minor leaguer in the starting lineup was right-hander A.J. Cole, who found his way into the rotation because of injuries to Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer and a season-ending blow to Joe Ross.
Exactly who Cole is filling in for has been lost in the constant shuffle, but he owns a 5.63 ERA in three starts after giving up four runs in five innings — three of them on a massive home run by Giancarlo Stanton.
Cole has the mid-90s fastball, one that sat around 94 and 95 mph Tuesday evening and jumped to 96 now and then. That kind of heater nearly amounts to a prerequisite for major league appearances these days.
When Cole misplaces his fastball, as he did too often in his last outing against the Marlins last week, Cole is hittable. But when he places it where he intends to, he is competitive. Early on Tuesday night, he was locating the pitch, well enough to jam Stanton with 96-mph heat in the third.
But about that time, Cole’s latissimus muscle tightened up, and though he went to get stretched out between innings, he was not quite the same.
The next time he faced Stanton, Cole left a 93-mph fastball out over the plate. Stanton hit it 438 feet to give the Marlins a 4-1 lead, and Cole’s evening ended shortly after that. Asked later if he had any lingering concerns about that lat muscle — an important question given that the Nationals’ store of starters is shrinking fast — Cole said, “We’ll see how it feels tomorrow.”
Howie Kendrick was not in the Nationals lineup Tuesday because he has a sore back. Perhaps he could have helped with a big hit here or there. Perhaps he wouldn’t have made a difference.
“Hopefully he’ll be ready,” Baker said. “Maybe tomorrow.”
Maybe tomorrow one or two of those banged-up Nationals will feel better.
Maybe it will take a few days more. But that the Nationals fell in their absence Tuesday is a symptom of present-day difficulty, not a sign of long-term ills. Like so many of their losses this year, this one left them still comfortably ahead in the National League East, with 21 more wins than losses — with health as the only pressing concern.
In August and September, they must just survive, and hope to feel better by the time “tomorrow” is some day in October.
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Box score: Marlins 7, Nationals 3