The Washington Times - April 6, 2011, 12:27AM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Almost all of the pregame chatter before the Nationals 3-2 loss to the Marlins on Tuesday surrounded the Nationals’ leadoff spot.

With Ian Desmond working on an 0-for-13 skid to start the season, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said that he’d give Danny Espinosa a chance in the top spot on Wednesday and, on a planned day off for Desmond and Espinosa both, Jerry Hairston Jr. got the start there Tuesday night.

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But as the Nationals walked off the field with their third loss of the young season, the fact that their leadoff hitters were a combined 0-for-17 (with a walk) was the least of their problems.

The Nationals left 12 men on base Tuesday night — and were just 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. That’s a figure that has to change if the Nationals want to have any shot of being competitive in the National League East.

The good news is that they were getting on base, especially against Anibal Sanchez, a right-hander who has been incredibly dominant over the Nationals in his career.

Nine different players reached base at least once, Ryan Zimmerman hit his first home run in 80 at-bats (dating back to August of 2010) as part of a 1-for-2 night with three walks and Wilson Ramos continued his hot start at the plate going 2-for-5 in his second start of the season.

The bad news is that aside from Michael Morse’s RBI-single to drive in Zimmerman in the first inning and Zimmerman’s homer in the third, the Nationals couldn’t produce. In 37 innings of baseball this season, the Nationals have plated just 10 runs — the second-worst mark in the major leagues. Only the Tampa Bay Rays have scored less with six.

“I think everybody just wants to do the job right now and maybe (we’re) pressing a little bit,” said right fielder Jayson Werth who was 1-for-5 with a double but committed a costly error in the 10th inning that led to the Marlins winning run. “We just need to relax and play the game. Everybody wants to play good and be good and right now, the hits aren’t coming.”

“We had a lot of chances again tonight. I think there was only one game that we didn’t have a chance to win so far this season. We’ve been right there.”