Javier Vazquez is a known commodity. His 14 seasons in the major leagues make that a simple fact. The Washington Nationals know him, they prepare for him and they're normally pretty good at facing him. Seven members of their roster entered Friday night's game hitting Vazquez at a .333 clip or better.
They weren't prepared, however, to see his fastball — and only his fastball — for much of the night. With the Florida Marlins' veteran right-hander pounding the pitch on the Nationals' hitters all night long, throwing it almost exclusively until the fourth inning, the Nationals offense was powerless in a 3-0 loss. They struck out seven times and managed just five hits.
Unable to back a shaky six-inning, three-run performance from John Lannan, the Nationals watched Vazquez throw 62 fastballs in a 104-pitch complete-game shutout. The Nationals walked off the field without scoring a single run for the 14th time this season.
Lannan battled. The Nationals just couldn't fight Vazquez's low-90s heat.
"He pitched basically that whole game with his fastball, from my point of view," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. "He was up when he wanted to, down when he wanted do. By and large he got most of the outs with his fastball."
"I've faced him a couple times," said shortstop Ian Desmond, "and he's never used that many fastballs. He was good today."
Vazquez needed just 26 pitches in his first three innings — 25 fastballs and one slider — to get through the Nationals' order the first time. He didn't unleash his first curveball until Roger Bernadina stepped to the plate in the fourth. And even after that point, he didn't mix in many other pitches.
"It's effective when guys like him are spotting his fastball and using it over and over," said outfielder Laynce Nix. He was one of the five Nationals to tally a hit off Vazquez, a single in the seventh that followed Ryan Zimmerman's infield knock and gave the Nationals their best chance to score all. But that was before both Rick Ankiel and Danny Espinosa struck out and Brian Bixler, pinch running for Nix, was picked off on a snap throw to first.
"He got through at least two times in the lineup without us really seeing his off-speed stuff, and that can be effective late in the game," Nix continued. "I think the whole time we're thinking he's going to come at us with something soft, and he kept pounding us with fastballs and not get the plate. ...
"When you get to the third, fourth time in the lineup and now he has the off-speed stuff you haven't seen, it's even more effective. It was a great job by him tonight."
Not a single Nationals' hitter registered an at-bat without seeing at least one fastball from Vazquez until Bernadina fanned on four pitches (a curveball and three straight changeups) for the second out of the ninth inning. Vazquez averaged just over 11 pitches per inning, remarkable efficiency against a Nationals' team that averages 3.83 pitches per plate appearance — the fourth-best mark in the National League.
A 10-run explosion on Thursday, another shutout on Friday. Such is life for the Nationals and their feast-or-famine offense this season. Each outburst, each positive sign of life seemingly followed by another reminder that they're the third-worst hitting team (.244 average) in the NL.
Even on a night when Lannan struggled — but pulled out a line qualifying for a quality start — the mountain was still too tall to climb.
"I'm kind of tired of battling," Lannan said, failing for the second time to earn his 10th win of the season and losing for the sixth time in his last seven starts. "I want to feel good every time out, but you're going to have these starts where you've got to work with what you've got. ... You run into a buzz saw every once in a while."
"He gave up three runs in six innings to a pretty good hitting ballclub but we just didn't do much to help," Johnson said with a disappointed shrug. "Unfortunately, when you pitch and you don't do much to score you can't afford to give up any."
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