MIAMI — The ball danced around like a bug in water, a few feet off Rosell Herrera’s bat, out of Max Scherzer’s hand in a diving flip, past Yan Gomes at home plate, smack against the backstop and, finally, dead in the dirt after two Miami Marlins had slid in to score.
The sixth-inning sequence was a fitting illustration of the Washington Nationals’ 9-3 loss Saturday night — tense, taxing, troubling — in more than one way. That scramble in front of the plate stretched the Marlins’ lead to three runs. Scherzer, the Nationals’ ace, had off-speed pitches knocked around all game and gave up seven runs (six earned) on 11 hits in 5⅓ innings. Anthony Rendon, the Nationals’ star third baseman, exited in the third after Jose Urena’s 95-mph fastball hit his left elbow. X-rays were negative after the game, and Rendon’s contusion will be reevaluated Sunday morning.
Is that not enough? The loss was the Nationals’ second straight to a team that entered this series with just four wins . Washington (9-10) will look to avoid a sweep, instead of playing for one, at 1:10 p.m. Sunday.
“This is big league baseball,” Scherzer said. “If you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, you get beat. Tonight, look, I didn’t bring my ‘A’ game, and I got beat. That’s for everybody. Everybody can sit here in the clubhouse and realize the type of effort that it takes to play against everybody.”
The start of his season has jumbled Scherzer’s routine, if only slightly, because of off days and a mild bone bruise suffered this month. He started three of the Nationals’ first eight games on regular rest. Then he had two extra days, as the bruise healed, ahead of his fourth start, against Pittsburgh last weekend. Then he had one extra day going into this matchup.
And Scherzer — comfortable in consistency, even defined by it — found trouble right away. Curtis Granderson led off with an opposite-field single, Brian Anderson scored him on a double, and Starlin Castro scored Anderson on a liner into left. Scherzer has been hit hard on his off-speed pitches so far, and they were at the root of Miami’s early rally. Granderson poked a change-up, Anderson turned a curve into a 103.4-mph hit, and Castro ripped a slider just over shortstop Wilmer Difo’s glove.
“It’s easy to really tell — the pitches are right down the middle,” Scherzer said. “And when you pitch down the middle in this league, you get hit.”
The Nationals got those runs back in the third, once Matt Adams singled in Victor Robles and Rendon. But the rally didn’t come without consequence. Rendon was on after Urena’s fastball drilled him in the elbow. Rendon paused to wince in pain, and he grimaced as he slowly walked up the line to first. He wheeled around from second on Adams’s single before he exited and Howie Kendrick replaced him at third.
Rendon came in with a 17-game hitting streak, a .377 batting average, six home runs and a league-leading 10 doubles. He has been the Nationals’ best hitter — and one of the best hitters in baseball — and now Washington will see how his elbow heals overnight.
“I’m still breathing,” Rendon said through a smile after the game. “I’m doing all right; it’s just a little swollen.”
Kendrick poked an RBI single into right in his first at-bat to again knot the score. The Marlins (6-15) had pushed back ahead on another RBI single for Castro — off another Scherzer slider in the third — and the Nationals’ inning was shortened by third base coach Bobby Henley. Henley had Juan Soto wheeling around from first, and he waved Soto in as Anderson picked up the ball along the right field line. Manager Dave Martinez later called it a “premature send.” Anderson threw to Castro, whose relay to catcher Jorge Alfaro beat Soto by at least 15 feet.
Then the Marlins created separation against the three-time Cy Young winner.
First it was a fifth-inning home run from Granderson. Then they blew the game open in the sixth.
“He left too many balls up and out over the plate,” Martinez said. “When you do that, you got big league hitters, and tonight just wasn’t his night. He said he felt good. But his location was not good today.”
The inning started with Scherzer striking out Alfaro. Then came back-to-back doubles by Miguel Rojas and Isaac Galloway, followed by Herrera’s swinging bunt that triggered that chaotic sequence around home plate. Scherzer’s lunging toss got past Gomes, and that allowed Rojas and Galloway to score. He exited right after, at 108 pitches, and Tony Sipp’s fourth offering induced a towering flyball from Granderson.
Robles ran to the warning track, peeking over his shoulder as he did, and leaped against the wall to make an impressive catch. Yet he crumbled to the field and, in doing so, allowed Herrera to tag and score from second. Martinez and trainer Paul Lessard jogged to center to check on Robles’s shoulder. And, if there were any silver lining Saturday, the 20-year-old outfielder remained in the game.
It was otherwise that kind of night for the Nationals. Whatever could have gone wrong did. Scherzer is 1-3 with a 4.45 ERA and still hasn’t found his usual dominance. Rendon is banged up. They dropped another game to the Marlins and, though seasons aren’t decided in April, that is when they are supposed to start. But this team, facing a sweep in Miami of all places, already needs to reset.