- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2012

Twelve days ago, Miami Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco smothered the Washington Nationals with a five-hit, complete game shutout. On a picture perfect day at Nationals Park on Sunday, he did it again.

The best team in baseball looked far from it in a rubber match against the Marlins. The Nationals managed just four hits and struck out six times against Nolasco in an 8-0 loss. It was an almost identical game to the teams’ Aug. 28 meeting in Miami, where Nolasco also pitched a complete-game shutout in a 9-0 win.

“He did the exact same thing,” Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said of Nolasco. “He was the exact same pitcher. We knew what we were getting. We knew what he has. He just locates to the point that you look up and its 0-2, 1-2 in your at-bat and you’re grinding. Tip your hat to him; he did a great job.”

The Nationals managed just one base runner in each of their first two times through the order. Bryce Harper walked in the first inning, and Michael Morse singled in the fifth. A Chad Tracy double occurred when Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton lost the fly ball in the sun.

Nolasco improved to 12-12 with the victory.

“He can get nasty when he starts throwing that change-up and that curveball and hitting the corners with his fastball,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “He cuts it in on left-handers, he does all kinds of stuff with the ball. It was one of his days.”

Nationals starter Edwin Jackson, on the other hand, gave up six earned runs, walked two batters and plunked another before being yanked in the fifth inning. He had averaged nine strikeouts per game in his past four outings before taking the mound Sunday, when he struck out only two.

Jackson and Ross Detwiler entered this weekend with a chance to give the Nationals five starters with double-digit wins. Instead, Detwiler received a no-decision in Saturday’s 7-6, 10-inning comeback victory, and Jackson struggled mightily Sunday. He lost focus early when three consecutive ground balls sneaked through the infield for hits.

“Sometimes they’re going to find a hole, sometimes they don’t,” Jackson said. “It’s just one of those things you’ve got to pitch around. There will be times when you make good pitches and sometimes they find holes, but as a starting pitcher you still have to come out and hold a game in place.”

The bright sun and cloudless blue sky only made matters worse. Harper whiffed on an easy fly ball by two or three feet in the second inning that allowed two Marlins to score. Werth said it was one of the brightest days he can remember playing in.

However, the sun wasn’t at fault for an anemic Nationals offense that looked helpless all day. Washington had scored at least seven runs in nine of its past 11 games but came up empty Sunday.

“I don’t look at it as we beat ourselves today; we got beat,” LaRoche said. “We caught a good pitcher on his game. We were a little bit off ours. Overall, it wasn’t a sloppy game; it was just good old butt-whipping.”

That fact was never clearer than in the seventh inning, when a ball sailed over Harper’s head and rolled under the center-field wall, just below the 402-foot mark. The Nationals’ wunderkind turned back to the infield and raised both arms in defeat. Another Marlins runner already was crossing the plate.

It was just one of those days for Harper and the Nationals, but also one that they cannot afford too many of. They are 5½ games up on the Atlanta Braves in the National League East after Atlanta beat the New York Mets 3-2 in 10 innings. The Nationals and Braves will square off in a three-game series this weekend in Atlanta.

“We just need to keep going,” Werth said. “It’s no easy task. We’ve got a long, hard stretch ahead of us, and we’ve got to play good baseball. We just need to keep being the same team we’ve been all year.”

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