- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - Miami Marlins left-hander Brad Hand was cruising along entering the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals.

He’d given up no runs, and only two singles and two walks until then, protecting Miami’s narrow lead.

And then it all fell apart for him.

Hand served up a homer to Tyler Moore, a tying sacrifice fly to Bryce Harper, and walked four batters, including one free pass that forced in the go-ahead run, setting up Miami’s 5-2 loss to Washington on Saturday.

“I just kind of lost the feel for my fastball,” Hand said. “Couldn’t throw it for strikes.”

They key at-bat might very well have been Harper’s, which came with the Marlins ahead 2-1 and the bases loaded. It lasted 10 pitches, with Harper fouling off five after there were two strikes before hitting a ball to right field that scored a run.

“He’s one of the best players in the game. He’s putting up a great year,” Hand said. “I made some really good pitches to him, and he kept fouling them off, fouling them off. He got enough of one to get a deep fly ball and get that run in.”

Two more walks by Hand, to Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond, forced in the go-ahead run in the fifth.

“I probably should have went and got him,” Marlins manager Dan Jennings said. “Probably stayed a batter too late.”

Hand (4-7) gave up three runs and six walks in 4 2-3 innings. He is 0-8 in 12 appearances - 10 starts - against the Nationals.

Harper’s two-run shot off Kyle Barraclough in the seventh - his 41st homer - padded the lead, earning loud chants of “M-V-P!”

After the no-doubt-about-it, two-run shot into the second deck in right field, it sounded as if nearly every throat in the announced crowd of 32,768 at Nationals Park was telling the world who deserves to receive the NL honor at the end of the season.

“He’s been doing it all year,” said Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann (13-8), who allowed two runs in the first and none the rest of the way in his six-inning, seven-strikeout outing. “He’s fun to watch. And anytime we can get some guys on base while he’s coming up, something good usually happens.”

As for whether Harper, still only 22, is the NL MVP?

“His numbers say he is,” Zimmermann said. “We’ll see at the end of the season, but I’m pulling for him.”

Harper leads the NL in homers, batting average (.340) and runs (113), and his three RBIs raised his total to 95, putting him 17 behind Colorado’s Nolan Arenado.

“Not really worried about the MVP or anything like that. I’ve said that numerous times. Just trying to win ballgames. And just trying to do everything I can to help this team win,” Harper said. “I definitely loved the support from the fans today.”

Coupled with the NL East-leading Mets’ 5-0 loss to the Yankees, Washington’s win moved it seven games out with 14 to play, giving it still only the faintest of hopes of making the playoffs.

“Just worry about ourselves and worry about us winning games,” Harper said. “If we don’t win, it don’t matter.”

Four relievers followed Zimmermann, with Jonathan Papelbon working around two singles in the ninth to earn his 24th save.

Run-scoring hits by Christian Yelich and Justin Bour put Miami up 2-0 in the first. The score remained that way until the bottom of the fifth, when Hand fell apart.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Marlins: 3B Martin Prado had a black brace on his left wrist and sat out a second consecutive game. “That’s just going to be a couple-of-day thing,” Jennings said, noting that Prado has “morphed into the captain of this ballclub.” … SS Adeiny Hechavarria (left hamstring), out since Sept. 2, is getting closer to returning.

Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman missed his 11th game in a row with a side muscle injury. Moore started at first base.

UP NEXT

In Sunday’s series finale, the Nationals send RHP Stephen Strasburg (9-7, 3.98 ERA) - coming off a 14-strikeout game - to the mound against Marlins LHP Justin Nicolino (3-3, 3.81).

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