- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

MIAMI — Whoever conjured up the notion of the dog days of summer might have had this in mind: a mid-July ballgame between the fading Washington Nationals and the anonymous Florida Marlins, played on a humid Monday night in front of 7,562 fans who barely filled one corner of this football stadium masquerading as a ballpark.

The Nationals did their part to live down to the setting, slogging their way to a lifeless 4-2 loss at Dolphin Stadium that was as uninspiring as any game they’ve played all season.

It’s not that the Nationals (39-55) did a whole lot wrong in this one. They just didn’t do much of anything at all.

No offense. Suspect defense. And one bad inning from starting pitcher Tony Armas Jr.

Thanks for playing, see you tonight at the rematch.

“You’re always going to look lifeless when you’re not putting people on base,” said manager Frank Robinson, whose team produced only six hits. “We just couldn’t get anything going tonight, couldn’t put anything together. They’re going to look like that.”

Coming off Sunday’s 11-inning win in Pittsburgh, the Nationals might have thought they’d experience some carryover effect in South Florida. Hardly. Washington came out flat at the plate against Marlins rookie Ricky Nolasco, the same pitcher they torched for eight runs only two weeks ago.

Nolasco (7-6) allowed just two of the first 16 batters he faced to reach base: Ryan Zimmerman, who doubled in the second, and Felipe Lopez, who broke out of his funk with a solo homer in the fourth.

Lopez’s line-drive shot to right, only his second hit since he was acquired last week from the Cincinnati Reds, could have given the Nationals a spark. But when he crossed the plate with his 10th homer of the year, the man waiting to greet him wasn’t original No. 3 hitter Jose Vidro. It was backup Marlon Anderson, who surprisingly took the place of Washington’s starting second baseman.

At the time, it was appropriate to speculate that perhaps Vidro had been traded in mid-game. But word came down shortly thereafter that he had merely been suffering from a slight left hamstring strain that first cropped up over the weekend in Pittsburgh. His status is day-to-day, with Anderson the only available candidate to fill in at second if needed.

“I tried to test it out there,” Vidro said. “But when I came back out, Frank took me out. I think it was the best thing to do, because I was having trouble walking and moving side-to-side. But I don’t think it’s going to be something, maybe a day or so.”

Day-to-day might also be an apt way to describe the state of the Nationals right now. This team is plugging away 24 hours at a time, not sure who will still be around and who will be gone each time the clubhouse doors open.

This is a transition period for Washington, one that began with last week’s eight-player trade and continued yesterday when popular backup first baseman/catcher Matt LeCroy was designated for assignment. More changes are surely forthcoming over the next two weeks, as baseball’s July trading period reaches a frenzy.

All the uncertainty surely has an effect on Nationals players, especially those who don’t know if they’ll be playing for another team any day now. Robinson admitted it may affect certain players’ performance, but there’s nothing they can do about it.

So they took the field last night in a nearly empty stadium to face an opponent that went through its own roster shakeup/youth movement last winter and is already starting to see it pay off.

Those baby Marlins took it to the Nationals in this one, with shortstop Hanley Ramirez setting the tone by belting a 424-foot leadoff homer off Armas in the bottom of the first.

Fellow young stud Mike Jacobs jumpstarted a fourth-inning rally by doubling to deep right-center before Armas’ defense let him down. Lopez committed his second error of the night — his fourth in four games as a National — when he booted Josh Willingham’s one-out grounder.

Armas (6-5) never recovered. Making his first appearance since a strained forearm landed him on the disabled list June 19, the right-hander immediately served up back-to-back singles, walked the No. 8 hitter and then was tagged for a two-run single by the opposing pitcher, Nolasco, on a hanging slider.

Just like that, Florida had a 4-1 lead and Armas had another disappointing outing to his record.

“That’s part of the game right there,” Armas said of the crucial error. “Everybody’s trying hard out there. Things happen. The main thing is I’ve got to pitch. That’s the only thing I’m worried about.”

The Nationals tried to mount a late rally, scoring a run in the seventh on Jose Guillen’s RBI single and bringing the tying run to the plate in the ninth against closer Joe Borowski. But Nick Johnson struck out and Ryan Zimmerman flied out to end the game and leave Washington scratching its collective head over another loss while also worrying when the next big roster move will strike, and who will be involved.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the https://www.washingtontimes.com/sports>Sports Page

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