- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

MIAMI | Each time Scott Olsen grants reporters a window into his three seasons with the Florida Marlins, he does so by countering his warm memories with the cold, concrete knowledge that his departure came purely for business reasons. He was due to make the most money of any of the Marlins' young starters and the team couldn't afford to pay him, so it shipped the 25-year-old left-hander to the Washington Nationals in hopes their remaining pitchers would make up for the loss.

Olsen's Tuesday start, his first of the season and his first against his former team, provided as good a reminder as any why the Nationals' new hurler couches his memories in such practical terms. While he saw firsthand the damage Florida's lineup can cause, his counterpart plundered Washington's hitters with the kind of ease that showed just how confident the Marlins are in their depth.

The end result was a 8-3 loss to the Marlins, the Nationals' 16th in their last 19 games against Florida. It featured some of the same issues that pervaded Washington's season-opening loss Monday. But the difference this time was Washington offered no hope of a comeback. Josh Johnson, the Marlins' 25-year-old starter, rendered the Nationals' offense toothless. And Olsen? He got gashed.

All eight of Florida's runs came in the three innings Olsen was in the game, doing the best he could with a fastball in the high 80s and a slider that flickered in and out. He lasted only three innings, the same tenure John Lannan had in the 12-6 Opening Day loss.

“It's not about adjustments or anything like that,” Olsen said. “However it has to be done, you just have to be better.”

He threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of the 20 batters he faced. But most of those were in the third inning, which is when Olsen got into the most trouble.

He missed twice with his slider in a six-pitch walk to Jorge Cantu, and the next pitch, an 87 mph fastball on the inner half of the plate to Dan Uggla, wound up in an empty seat somewhere in left field. Olsen had a chance to limit the damage to two runs until he threw another fastball to the inner half of the plate. Ronny Paulino dropped that past a sprawling Lastings Milledge in center for his first career triple.

“It wasn't the pitches. Everything was there,” Olsen said. “It's just the pitches that I made mistakes on, they didn't miss.”

Then Olsen committed the same transgression that got the Nationals in trouble multiple times against the Marlins last year - letting the pitcher's spot turn into a baserunner. Johnson singled off Olsen, and Emilio Bonifacio lashed another triple to center, again past Milledge, just like he did Monday.

The former Nationals infielder thought about running through a stop sign at third to try for his second inside-the-park homer in as many days but wound up stranded at third.

“I don't think he has misplayed any of those balls. They've just been over his head, period,” manager Manny Acta said. “They've been hit hard because we've been pitching behind in the count and guys have been taking good swings.”

If Bonifacio had scored, the only effect would have been to accentuate the damage. By the end of the third, the Marlins had knocked their former teammate out of the game and handed the controls to Johnson, their sublime 6-foot-7 right-hander with a sharp slider and a 95 mph fastball that kept swooping into the strike zone with the downward force of a swinging axe.

Johnson gave up seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. But he never gave the Nationals a chance to string more than two of them together, and all of them were singles.

Mostly, he used the fastball to get seven groundouts and eight strikeouts, leaving in the seventh having throwing 75 of his 106 pitches for strikes.

“He throws [near] 100, and he can locate it. He's got front-line starter stuff,” left fielder Adam Dunn said. “For us to get in a hole like we did, that makes it tough on us.”

Washington managed three runs off Florida's bullpen, two of them coming on a rocket into the upper deck from Austin Kearns in the eighth inning. The right fielder crushed a high Leo Nunez fastball for his first homer of the year, and Cristian Guzman's double drove in Jesus Flores in the ninth.

The focus now shifts to Daniel Cabrera, who will try to salvage the season's first series Wednesday afternoon. But the Marlins' mastery of their old pitcher put the Nationals a game closer to the kind of early-season funk they have muddled through the last two years.

“We're just putting ourselves in an early hole,” Dunn said.

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