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Instant Analysis: Marlins 9, Nats 7

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Instant Analysis: Marlins 9, Nats 7

Game in a nutshell: They came out to watch Stephen Strasburg make his final home start of the season. They wound up watching the soon-to-be-shutdown ace get rocked again by the pesky Marlins, knocked out after allowing five runs in only three innings. That certainly put a damper on the evening, only made worse when rookie right-hander Jacob Turner all but shut down the Nationals' lineup for six innings. Then Ozzie Guillen handed the ball to his bullpen, and guess what happened? Yep, the Nationals came storming back, scoring three runs off Carlos Zambrano in the seventh and then getting the game-tying homer from Michael Morse in the eighth. Just like that, the game was tied 6-6 and headed for a dramatic finish. Bryce Harper supplied the firepower, throwing out Greg Dobbs at the plate to prevent the tying run from scoring in the top of the ninth, but neither Harper nor Ryan Zimmerman could drive in the winning run in the bottom of the inning. So the game went extras, with Tyler Clippard forced to pitch in a non-save situation. The Nats closer promptly gave up Jose Reyes' two-run triple and then a sacrifice fly that brought home the third run of the top of the 10th. The Nationals tried to mount one more rally in the bottom of the inning, getting a fluke assist when Morse's liner struck second base umpire Tony Randazzo to score Adam LaRoche. But with the bases loaded and one out, Roger Bernadina and Jayson Werth each struck out. Thus the Nationals suffered a frustrating loss, which combined with the Braves' 3-0 win in New York closed the gap in the NL East to 6 12 games.

Hitting highlight: They were stymied all night by Turner (aside from Zimmerman's first-inning homer) but the Nationals lineup sprung to life once the Miami bullpen took over. Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Kurt Suzuki all recorded big hits in the seventh. Morse then provided the big blast in the eighth that tied the game. It was his 13th homer of the season, 10 of them hit to the right of straightaway center field. This one energized the crowd for a little while, but the ballpark fell silent again when the rest of the Nationals lineup couldn't produce the game-winning hit late.

Pitching lowlight: What can you say? Strasburg just wasn't any good. He walked the very first batter of the night, and things only went downhill from there. He served up homers to both Rob Brantley and Giancarlo Stanton, each on fastballs right down the heart of the strike zone. He walked three batters. And he needed 67 pitches to get through only three innings. It was an incredibly disappointing way for Strasburg's home finale to play out, and it left the crowd in a state of shock and not sure how to respond. In the end, it's perhaps not that surprising Strasburg struggled like this. He's been wildly inconsistent during the second half of the year, alternating between dominant and eminently hittable. That's a trademark description of how pitchers in their first full year back from Tommy John surgery often look.

Key stat: The ERAs of the Nationals' five starters since the All-Star break: Ross Detwiler 2.79, Gio Gonzalez 3.05, Edwin Jackson 3.47, Jordan Zimmermann 3.67, Stephen Strasburg 3.73.

Up next: The series continues with a rare, 1:05 p.m. Saturday matinee. Detwiler seeks to become the fourth member of the Nats rotation with 10 wins. Ricky Nolasco starts for the Marlins.

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Nationals Ace Max Scherzer will not be team's opening day starter

Nationals Ace Max Scherzer will not be team's opening day starter

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team's opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation. 

Scherzer has been the team's starter on opening day for the past two seasons, but a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger caused him to miss the start of spring training, and the World Baseball Classic. 

Scherzer did, however, make his first MLB spring training start of 2017 on Wednesday. The 2016 NL Cy Young award winner allowed two earned runs on five hits over 4.2 innings. He added four strikeouts and one walk, and reportedly looked just like you would expect from Max Scherzer. 

"To be out there competing, throwing all my pitches, throwing them for strikes, that's a great first outing," Scherzer told Eddie Matz of ESPN after the game. "Finger's good. Finger feels like a finger. I'm getting through that injury. It's behind me now."

With Scherzer set to open the season as the third starter in the rotation, that likely means that Stephen Strasburg will start on opening day against the Miami Marlins, and Tanner Roark will slot in behind him. 

While it's nice to have your ace pitcher starting on opening day, it's not a huge deal to have Scherzer start the season third in the rotation, especially because the Nationals starting rotation is the strength of the team

Related: Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches four scoreless innings to help Team USA beat Japan in WBC

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Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches 4 scoreless innings in US defeat of Japan in WBC

Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches 4 scoreless innings in US defeat of Japan in WBC

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Luke Gregerson's final strike breezed past Nobuhiro Matsuda, and the rain-drenched American players celebrated on the field while a soaked crowd roared through the evening mist.

A daylong downpour couldn't dampen this resilient United States club or its fans, who will finally get to root for the home team in a World Baseball Classic championship game.

Brandon Crawford scored the tiebreaking run when Matsuda bobbled Adam Jones' grounder to third in the eighth inning, and the United States reached the WBC final for the first time by beating Japan 2-1 on Tuesday night at rainy Dodger Stadium.

Andrew McCutchen drove in an early run for the U.S., which will play Puerto Rico for the title Wednesday night. Puerto Rico edged the Netherlands 4-3 in 11 innings Monday.

"It means a heck of a lot," said McCutchen, the Pittsburgh Pirates slugger. "We've got a great group of guys on this team who have dedicated this time to be able to try and win some ballgames. Sacrifices had to be made, and there are no egos when that door opens. That's what's good about this team. Everybody is a superstar on this team. There are no egos."

The World Baseball Classic final has been played in the United States in each of its four editions, but the home team had never been able to play America's pastime on what has become its biggest international stage. The U.S. only reached the semifinals once before, in 2009.

While manager Jim Leyland's current roster is missing Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and many other American superstars, the All-Star-laden group that decided to participate has won two straight elimination games to earn a chance for the U.S.' first crown.

"Coming into this event, I didn't really want to talk about the fact that the United States has never won it (and) they've never gone to the finals," Leyland said. "I didn't think that was a big deal. I wanted this, for the players, to be a memory. I've talked a lot about it. Make a memory. Hopefully it's a real good one, regardless of the results (Wednesday). I know it is for me. It's been an absolute honor."

To reach the final, the Americans had to persevere through an uncharacteristic Los Angeles rain that drenched the playing field several hours before game time. They also had to beat a gifted Japanese team at its own game: pitching, defense and small ball.

Ryosuke Kikuchi hit a tying homer off reliever Nate Jones in the sixth inning for Japan, but the two-time WBC champions were twice let down by their normally sturdy defense.

McCutchen opened the scoring with an RBI single in the fourth moments after Kikuchi's two-base error at second. In the eighth, Crawford likely would have been out at the plate on Jones' innocent grounder, but Matsuda didn't field it cleanly and had to throw to first.

"Well, two plays," Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said through a translator. "Honestly, there were some mistakes, and then a run was scored. ... The team that makes mistakes will lose. That's what it means. I cannot blame them, though, for doing that."

Japan won the first two WBC tournaments before losing in the 2013 semifinals, and Kokubo's current team was unbeaten in this event.

"The players really did their very best," Kokubo said. "I really appreciate it. It's do-or-die, one semifinal."

Tanner Roark pitched four scoreless innings of two-hit ball before Leyland pulled him on the instructions of the Washington Nationals, who limited Roark to 50 pitches because he hadn't faced live hitters in nine days.

"I felt good enough to stay out there," Roark said.

Gregerson, the Americans' sixth reliever, worked a perfect ninth inning after Pat Neshek escaped a two-on jam in the eighth.

Leyland is confident he'll have a capable bullpen Wednesday after receiving texts from various pitching coaches around the majors on the status of their players. Toronto's Marcus Stroman, the starter, is free to reach the WBC's 95-pitch limit, Leyland confirmed.

Although the crowd of 33,462 strongly favored the team with five California natives in the starting lineup, thousands of Japanese fans showed up early and chanted throughout the game, accompanied by the brass band in the left-field bleachers.

Tomoyuki Sugano, the Yomiuri Giants ace with a seven-pitch repertoire, tossed six innings of three-hit ball for Japan, striking out six and yielding only one unearned run.

But Sugano was matched by Roark, who gave up just two singles and a walk in his four innings, also hitting a batter with a pitch.

After Christian Yelich reached second in the fourth inning when his hard-hit grounder was mishandled by Kikuchi, the standout defensive second baseman, Eric Hosmer worked out of an 0-2 count to draw a two-out walk.

McCutchen had just two hits in his first 14 at-bats in the WBC, but he drove in Yelich with a sharp single to left.

Kikuchi made up for his mistake in the sixth, driving Jones' fastball barely over the reach of McCutchen in right field for his first homer of the tournament.

Japan reliever Kodai Senga struck out the first four batters he faced with a 96 mph fastball and exceptional off-speed stuff, but Crawford then delivered a sharp single before Ian Kinsler doubled to deep left-center.

Neshek got cleanup hitter Yoshimoto Tsutsugoh on a fly to right to end the eighth.