- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2006

It doesn’t matter how good a team’s pitching is if it can’t field.

With the Washington Nationals still recovering from Monday’s Livan Hernandez trade and hoping their starting pitching holds up the rest of the season, it was a succession of fielding gaffes — not their pitching — that handed the rebuilding Florida Marlins a 4-2 victory last night at RFK Stadium.

Three Nationals fielding errors led to half of Florida’s runs.

“The ball game tonight was not a good ballgame, period,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “It was a very uninspired and lack of energy type game. No execution.”

The Nationals (49-63), who came into last night’s game the second-worst fielding team in baseball with a .979 percentage, maintained their lock on last place in the NL East with another poor defensive performance.

The 24,922 watched Ryan Church fail to pick up a ball in the left-field alley that allowed an extra base, a hard grounder go through Nick Johnson’s legs that allowed a run to score and Marlon Anderson throw away a ball to first that looked like a sure out, and that baserunner eventually scored. The Nationals committed errors in the first, fourth and sixth innings, running their season total to 88 — just four errors in front of the Marlins, who are baseball’s worst fielding team.

As bad as the Nationals were last night, they didn’t match their season-high for fielding blunders. That dubious mark happened May 12 at the Atlanta Braves when the Nationals committed four errors.

After living in last place for almost the entire season, the Marlins (52-60) rolled into town two games ahead of the Nationals in the standings. This 10-game homestand offers the Nationals a chance to finally get out of the basement, but their gloves let them down.

Despite their fielding problems, the Nationals stayed in the game against Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco (10-7) via the long ball. Church’s sixth home run of the season led off the third inning, snapped Nolasco’s shutout bid, and reduced the deficit to 2-1.

Johnson’s 17th home run of the season cut the Marlins lead to 3-2 when he drilled a one-out shot into the right-field mezzanine seats in the fourth.

The Nationals squandered a scoring opportunity with bases loaded in the seventh inning. With only one out and trailing 4-2, the Nationals came away with nothing. Marlins reliever Taylor Tankersley struck out catcher Brian Schneider and pinch hitter Luis Matos to end the threat.

“It was a situation where we had our chances,” Schneider said. “For me, I’ve faced him before and he bared down and made some good pitches, but it’s no excuse. I’ve got to get the job done.”

While the Nationals pecked away at Florida’s lead through the first four innings, the Marlins consistently pounded Armas. The youthful Marlins banged out nine hits against the Nationals starting pitcher. Conversely, the Nationals managed just five hits off Nolasco in 61/3 innings.

Armas, who has won just once in his last seven starts, needed to redeem himself after his last start when he allowed six runs on eight hits in Wednesday’s 8-6 loss at the San Francisco Giants.

Last night’s start was a pretty typical outing for Armas (7-8). Once again, he was affected by a high-pitch count and had thrown 104 pitches by the end of the sixth inning.

“He’s been this way all year basically throwing a lot of pitches,” Robinson said. “Tonight, he maybe threw one first-strike pitch, or two at the most.”

But half of Florida’s runs were unearned off Armas. In the fourth inning, the Marlins made it a 3-1 game when rookie shortstop Hanley Ramirez scored from second base after catcher Miguel Olivo’s hot grounder shot through first baseman Johnson’s legs into right field. It was Johnson’s ninth error of the season.

The Marlins added a two-run cushion in the sixth inning courtesy of another Nationals error. Jeremy Hermida led off the sixth inning with what looked like a routine grounder to second. Nationals second baseman Anderson picked up the ball, but his wide throw pulled Johnson off the bag. Hermida advanced to second on a ground out to third. Olivo drove in Hermida with a single to left for a 4-2 lead.

Armas pitched six innings and allowed four runs — just two earned — on nine hits. He walked two and struck out four. However, despite just two walks, Armas had control problems with only 59 of his 104 pitches going for strikes. Armas also hit a batter when he beaned Hermida to open the second.

“I’ve always said I’m not a pitcher that throws 80 or 70 pitches,” Armas said.

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