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A rough end to Nats' tough road trip

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A rough end to Nats' tough road trip

MIAMI -- They entered this futuristic, psychedelic ballpark on Monday flying high as a kite, winners in five of the first six games of this key road trip and holding a season-high 2 12-game lead in the NL East.

By the time they packed their bags Wednesday night to head home, the Nationals were stinging from a sweep at hands of their longtime nemeses, their stranglehold on baseball's toughest division down to a mere 12-game following a 5-3 loss to the resurgent Marlins.

"It's definitely tough," left-hander Ross Detwiler said. "We hit a hot team at the wrong time."

Did they ever. A Miami club that appeared on the verge of self-inflicted implosion not long ago just completed the most-successful month in franchise history, going 21-8 in May. They've got one of the most-feared hitters in the game today in Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton and a deep rotation that held the Nationals to six earned runs in this series.

And, unlike everyone else in the division, they've managed to avoid crushing injuries.

Because of that, the Nationals head home a bit dazed, having failed to capitalize on their dominant performances in Philadelphia and Atlanta, ultimately finishing this trip with a 5-4 record.

"Unfortunately, it happens," second baseman Danny Espinosa said. "Overall, I think if you look at the road trip, we did alright. It's tough to play on the road, a new stadium. It doesn't feel good to get swept, but if you look at the overall picture, we did play well on the road."

The Nationals weren't whitewashed by the Marlins; they lost each of these three games by two runs. Which meant they were done in by a handful of key mistakes each night.

On Wednesday, most of those mistakes came out of the right hand of Chien-Ming Wang, who in his first start of the season battled some rare command issues and wound up unable to record even one out in the fifth inning.

Wang faced 22 batters and allowed 12 of them to reach safely via seven hits, three walks, a hit batter and a fielder's choice.

"I'm kind of disappointed in myself today for the performance," the Taiwanese hurler said through interpreter John Hsu.

Wang actually displayed some of the best "stuff" he's shown in years, dialing his sinker up to 94 mph and mixing in some sharp breaking balls. But when he needed to find the strike zone, he couldn't, particularly after being handed a 3-1 lead in the fourth via back-to-back RBI hits from Espinosa and Roger Bernadina.

Wang immediately walked the first two Miami batters he faced in the bottom of the inning, Logan Morrison and Bryan Petersen, on nine total pitches. Both runners wound up coming around to score.

"I thought he was a little rusty," manager Davey Johnson said. "I think he'll be better next time out."

There will be a next time for Wang, Johnson insisted, though each time the veteran takes the mound, it feels like he's auditioning to retain the final spot in the Nationals' rotation over Detwiler (who was bumped to the bullpen this week).

"He's in the rotation," Johnson said. "He's a replacing a guy that threw the ball pretty good for me. But I like the upside of Chien-Ming, and we'll just play it by ear as it goes."

Detwiler, who labored through his last three starts, performed well in relief of Wang on Wednesday, allowing one inherited runner to score in the fifth before facing the minimum in the sixth.

Knowing he would only be used for at most a couple of innings, the left-hander was able to cut loose from the moment he entered, and it showed: He struck out the first batter he faced, Morrison, on a 95 mph fastball.

"I don't have to hold anything back," Detwiler said of pitching in relief. "That's one thing: When you're kind of scuffling, you're trying to think too much. Coming out of the 'pen, it's just go out there and get 'em."

Detwiler managed to keep this a one-run game into the seventh, but that's when the Nationals were yet again victimized by the fearsome Stanton. The 22-year-old slugger already homered in Monday's series opener, then contributed a key RBI single on Tuesday.

This time, he dug in against right-hander Ryan Perry and hammered a hanging slider 413 feet to left field for his 12th home run of the month and his 11th home run in 34 career games against the Nationals.

You can't make a mistake on a hitter that's big and strong like him," Johnson said. "Boy, Perry threw a little back-up slider and he straightened it out. I like our chances if we could stay within one run but every time, we'd give up a home run to one of their big guys. One run is easier to come back from than two."

Indeed, the Nationals were unable to erase the two-run deficit in any of these three games. They did put the tying run on base in the ninth inning Wednesday, but Miami closer Heath Bell struck out pinch-hitter Rick Ankiel looking to end the game and complete the series sweep at Marlins Park.

Thus concluded an eventful road trip that featured some distinct high points but also another run of injuries. Reliever Ryan Mattheus needed foot surgery. Pinch-hitter Chad Tracy needed groin surgery. Catcher Jesus Flores needed to rest his hamstring. And then reliever Henry Rodriguez slammed a finger on his throwing hand in a bathroom door, knocking him out of commission for a day.

The Nationals could feel sorry for themselves at the end of all that. On the other hand, they can take solace in knowing they're still eight games over .500, with cleanup hitter Michael Morse perhaps ready to make his season debut Friday night against the Braves.

"We're still in first place," Detwiler said. "We have to go out there Friday and say: 'We're still in first place. We're still the team to beat.'"

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Turner and Zimmerman sit as Scherzer, Nats play at Giants

Turner and Zimmerman sit as Scherzer, Nats play at Giants

Nationals (60-42) vs. Giants (59-43) at AT&T Park

The Nationals hung on two beat the Giants in the opener on Thursday night despite a finish that was anything but smooth. On Friday, they will look to win their third straight game overall with Max Scherzer (10-6, 2.92) on the mound.

Scherzer has been brilliant as of late with just four earned runs allowed across his last five starts (34.1 IP). He struck out 10 in seven innings against the Padres his last time out.

Behind Scherzer will be a new-look lineup with Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa all getting the day off. Ben Revere is in center, Clint Robinson is at first base and Wilmer Difo is in at shortstop.

They will face Jeff Samardzija (9-6, 4.22), who has allowed at least four earned runs in five of his last six starts and in seven of his last 10.

First pitch: 10:15 p.m.
TV: MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats -Max Scherzer vs. Giants - Jeff Samardzija

NATS

CF Ben Revere
RF Bryce Harper
2B Daniel Murphy
C Wilson Ramos
LF Jayson Werth
1B Clint Robinson
3B Anthony Rendon
SS Wilmer Difo
RHP Max Scherzer

GIANTS

CF Denard Span
LF Angel Pagan
2B Joe Panik
SS Brandon Crawford
1B Brandon Belt
3B Connor Gillaspie
RF Gregor Blanco
C Trevor Brown
RHP Jeff Samardzija

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Nats place C Jose Lobaton on disabled list, call up Severino

Nats place C Jose Lobaton on disabled list, call up Severino

The Nationals will be without Jose Lobaton for at least a few days, as they placed the backup catcher on the disabled list Friday retroactive to July 20. Lobaton is dealing with left elbow tendinitis.

Taking his place on the roster will be catcher Pedro Severino, who was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse. This is Severino's second stint with the Nats this season.

Lobaton, 31, takes a break after holding a .194 average with one homer and three RBI through 22 games. He last played on July 19 against the Dodgers and has only appeared in four games this month.

Severino, 23, only made one appearance with the Nats when he replaced Wilson Ramos, who went on the bereavement list in late April. Severino also played two games with the Nationals last season.

Known more for his defensive abilities, Severino has a .259 average with two homers and 17 RBI in 73 games at Triple-A this season.

MASNsports.com first reported Severino's call-up.

[RELATED: Papelbon's job as Nats closer now a real question]

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MLB Trade Rumors: Nats reportedly willing to trade Giolito for Miller, but Yankees aren't

MLB Trade Rumors: Nats reportedly willing to trade Giolito for Miller, but Yankees aren't

The Nationals are very interested in acquiring a closer before the trade deadline on Monday.

The hang up has been — as it was with a potential deal for Aroldis Chapman — with the number of pieces they would have to give up in the process.

While keeping all of their top prospects would be ideal, a source close to the MLB's Jon Morosi believes the Nationals would be willing to trade 22-year-old RHP Lucas Giolito to the Yankees for 31-year-old closer Andrew Miller.

RELATED: WHO ARE THE NATS' TOP TRADE DEADLINE TARGETS?

The Yankees had previously insisted that they would be keeping Miller, but with the team looking to stockpile young talent for the future, a one-for-one trade would do them well. But having just dealt Chapman, the Yankees may want more in return, which the Nationals have balked at in recent talks.

But Miller would be an upgrade from the Nationals' current situation.

Jonathan Papelbon has been shaky and inconsistent as of late, and while Shawn Kelley has been capable of spot closing duties, it is clear that the team is deficient in that department. Miller only has nine saves this season, but has played second fiddle to Chapman and his blistering pitch speed. Miller has a 1.39 ERA and has struck out 77 batters this season.

Miller is a good closer, but is he worth giving up a bona fide top prospect in Lucas Giolito?

According to fellow MLB Network reporter Jon Heyman, the Yankees reportedly think it's the other way around.

One thing is for sure, the answer will become clear by the end of the weekend.

RELATED: NATS' INTERESTED IN PIRATES' ALL-STAR CLOSER