- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2007

MIAMI — One starting pitcher was derailed by long fly balls while the other thrived by keeping them on the ground.

Buoyed by three home runs and an impressive outing from starting pitcher Sergio Mitre, the Florida Marlins beat the Washington Nationals 5-2 in front of 21,012 at Dolphin Stadium.

One night after these two teams needed nearly 3½ hours to complete a 14-10 slugfest, Mitre relied on his sinking fastball to carve up the Nationals lineup in quick fashion. It took less than 90 minutes to play six innings and the game was completed in a crisp two hours and 20 minutes.

Mitre (4-4) went 72/3 innings and allowed two runs on six hits. He recorded 17 ground ball outs while striking out three without a walk.

“He was starting it out in the zone, even right down the middle pretty much and the it was running down and away from us,” leadoff man Ryan Langerhans said. “It is one of those that you’ve got to stay on it all the way. I know myself, that’s what I wasn’t doing.”

He left in the eighth after yielding a single to pinch-hitter Robert Fick and an apparent double to Ronnie Belliard that was changed to a home run before the umpire crew conference and reversed the call back to a two-base hit. Armando Benitez relieved Mitre and struck out Ryan Zimmerman to end the threat.

The Nationals did not hit a ball in the air or out of the infield until Austin Kearns led off the fifth inning with a single to left. While Zimmerman managed beat out a dribbler in front of the mound to the left of Mitre for a base hit in the first inning, Washington’s first 13 plate appearances included nine ground outs and three strikeouts.

“I’ve never faced him before,” Belliard said. “I think a couple of guys in here haven’t seen him before. We see him on video, but today he was painting the outside corner and then throwing that sinker in and it was hard to figure out.”

Mitre — a master at inducing ground balls this season — entered the game with a 2.66 ground out-to-fly out ratio. The 26-year old didn’t need more than 10 pitches to complete any of the first six innings before throwing 17 in the seventh when the Nationals mustered their first rally. His night was done after 85 pitches, including 61 strikes.

“He was throwing strikes,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “Some of the guys were swinging early in the count, but it wasn’t like he was all over the place. They swung early and just beat it on the ground.”

Zimmerman started the rally with his second infield hit of the night, a grounder in the hole between short and third. Dmitri Young hit a ball that bounced right in front of the plate but took a big hop and got past Miguel Cabrera at third and down the line for a double. Kearns scored Zimmerman on a sacrifice fly.

While Mitre was pounding the strike zone, the Nationals‘ lack of patience was a stark contrast from the night before, when hitters earned eight walks and produced 14 runs, a team high since the franchise moved to the District.

Washington starter Matt Chico (4-6) did not have the same kind of night. He gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks in six innings.

All five runs came via the home run. Cabrera belted a two-run, opposite field shot on a 1-2 pitch in the first inning for his 19th home run of the season. Jeremy Hermida crushed a solo homer deep into the orange seats beyond the right field wall in the second inning, and Josh Willingham’s two-run blast in the sixth landed in a tarp-covered section behind the seats in left field.

Chico had been brilliant in his previous three starts, allowing just one run in his past 19 innings of work.

But his command clearly was off. At one point Brian Schneider was charged with back-to-back passed balls, but both were instances where he set up on one side of the plate and Chico missed badly on the other side.

“I just didn’t have my location. I thought I made a lot more than just three mistakes,” Chico said. “There were a lot of balls that were cutting on me and it was giving Schneider a tough time to catch. … Every time I threw something away it was cutting right back over the middle or even farther over. I just couldn’t get that pitch down there.”

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