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Johnson tries to boost Nats' spirits during meeting

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Johnson tries to boost Nats' spirits during meeting

PITTSBURGH -- Sensing some of his players were starting to press in an attempt to snap out of their offensive funk, Nationals manager Davey Johnson closed the doors of the visiting clubhouse at PNC Park this afternoon and tried to boost spirits with something of a pep-talk.

The meeting lasted less than 10 minutes, but Johnson's message was clear.

"I wanted to let them know that I'm behind them 100 percent," he said. "I know we're going to get better as the season goes on. And I appreciate the effort they've given so far. ... I wanted to put them at ease that I have confidence in everyone on this ballclub, or else they wouldn't be here. I expect us to get it right."

The Nationals enter tonight's game against the Pirates on a three-game losing streak, having struck out 23 times in the first two games of this series. Several players, Johnson believes, look like they're trying to do too much, perhaps overcompensating for the losses of Michael Morse and Jayson Werth to injuries.

"They try to hit the ball too hard," the manager said. "They try to make up for the lack of power we have in the lineup. And I don't want that. We're not that kind of ballclub. Everybody's different. But all of the guys have the capability to be a good hitter."

Johnson sought not only to show confidence in his players through his words but also his actions. Thus, his lineup for this series finale isn't altered much from previous nights. Bryce Harper was bumped down to the fifth spot in order to provide some protection for cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche. But slumping second baseman Danny Espinosa (who leads the NL with 39 strikeouts) remains in the lineup and hitting sixth.

Johnson did meet individually with Espinosa this afternoon and offered him a chance to take the night off, with rookie Steve Lombardozzi filling his spot. The .189-hitting second baseman said he wanted to play.

"The most important guy right now in this lineup is Danny Espinosa," Johnson said. "And I had a conversation with him today about: 'Let me rest you. Lombo would certainly enjoy the opportunity to go out there and play second base.' But he said: 'I feel better. I've been a little confused.' I had a great conversation with him and I said nothing more than I'll give you every opportunity to do the things you're capable of, because we need you. Ergo, he's in the lineup."

Johnson reiterated a point he made Wednesday: He doesn't want players believing their jobs are on the line every time they step to the plate or take the mound. He also doesn't succumb to outside pressure calling for change.

"I wanted to let them know that I don't manage by audition, and I don't panic and I don't take a lot of advice from people that don't know a whole lot," he said. "I do read blogs and Tweeter and fans and the newspaper and also on the internet. I'm not immune to it, and I know these guys do it 100 times more than me.

"I'm not saying there's not always some good advice in there. But you're dealing with people that have feelings and you're also dealing with people that have a lot of pride. And also I want to be consistent with opportunities. The more you play, the more opportunities you get. It's kind of simple with me. One day doesn't necessarily make a winning streak. And a couple 0-fers doesn't necessarily mean a slump."

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Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for the third no-hitter of his big league career ended with one out in the eighth inning, and he then gave up two unearned runs as the Miami Marlins rallied to beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 Wednesday.

After backup catcher A.J. Ellis reached on an infield single for Miami's first hit, an error by first baseman Adam Lind and a hit batter loaded the bases with two outs. Scherzer threw a wild pitch that scored the tying run, and Giancarlo Stanton lined an RBI single -- the Marlins' only other hit -- to put them ahead.

Scherzer (8-5) threw no-hitters against the Pirates and Mets in 2015, and he seemed on his way to another when he began the eighth inning with a 1-0 lead.

He retired 18 in a row before Ellis hit a chopper that bounced in front of the plate and glanced off the tip of Scherzer's glove as he reached overhead for it. The ball rolled to shortstop Trea Turner, who failed in his attempt to make a barehanded pickup and rush a throw.

MORE NATS: 12-3 win over Marlins Tuesday

Official scorer Ron Jernick immediately ruled the play a hit, and Scherzer knew it. He picked up the ball and angrily flung it to the dugout -- not as a souvenir.

Washington totaled five hits against Dan Straily and three relievers. Kyle Barraclough (3-1) pitched the eighth, and A.J. Ramos worked around a two-out single in the ninth for his 10th save.

Scherzer threw a season-high 121 pitches and had 11 strikeouts, reaching double figures for the sixth game in a row, the team's longest such streak such the franchise moved to Washington for the 2005 season.

He lowered his ERA to 2.08, best in the NL. He also leads the league with 145 strikeouts.

The other no-hitter in the majors this year was achieved on the same mound by Miami's Edinson Volquez against Arizona on June 3.

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The crowd of 22,659 for the 12:10 p.m. start included thousands of youngsters on camp day, and they gave the game a scream-filled soundtrack.

The score was 0-0 until Washington's Ryan Raburn hit his first homer of the year in the fifth. Raburn was a late replacement for outfielder Michael A. Taylor, who was scratched because he wasn't feeling well.

That was the only run allowed by Straily, who went six innings.

Scherzer walked Christian Yelich with two out in the first and hit Derek Dietrich with a pitch with one out in the second. That was Miami's last baserunner until the eighth.

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The Nats got hot Tuesday in Miami with 12-3 win over Marlins

The Nats got hot Tuesday in Miami with 12-3 win over Marlins

Gio Gonzalez had some worrisome moments on the mound Tuesday night, including when a friend sitting in the first row behind the Washington Nationals' dugout was hit in the head by a flying bat.

"Next time in the front row everyone will be wearing a helmet," Gonzalez said.

The friend later said he was fine, and Gonzalez felt good too after pitching seven innings to beat the Miami Marlins 12-3.

Gonzalez (7-1) allowed three runs, including two on Marcell Ozuna's 19th homer , but struck out eight and won his fourth consecutive decision.

"Exactly what we needed," manager Dusty Baker said. "Gio's throwing the ball great."

He had plenty of support even before a five-run ninth. Bryce Harper started the scoring with a two-run single that extended his hitting streak to 13 games, and Daniel Murphy had two RBIs and hit his 12th homer . Stephen Drew had three hits and three RBIs, while Ryan Zimmerman drove in three runs with a double and a single.

Gonzalez, who grew up in nearby Hialeah, improved to 7-3 in 13 starts against his hometown team with an ERA of 2.19. He had a cluster of friends and relatives in attendance, and that's where Justin Bour's bat went when it slipped from his hands on a swing in the fifth inning.

"It's good to have friends here, but put them somewhere safe," Gonzalez said.

He said his pal who was hit received a souvenir later as compensation for being clubbed.

"Bour gave him a bat, which is pretty cool on his part, because we want the fans to come back," Gonzalez said.

The left-hander said it was too early to talk about the possibility of pitching in the All-Star game, which will be played in his hometown next month. His teammates are rooting for it.

"Gio has been great," Harper said. "I'm hoping he pitches like this the rest of the first half and gets the start here. It would be incredible to see."

The NL East leaders went 7 for 14 with runners in scoring position, but it was still 0-0 when Edinson Volquez (3-8) walked Michael A. Taylor and Trea Turner in the third inning, and they advanced on a double steal.

With two outs, Harper tried to bunt on the first pitch -- a curious move by the slugger -- and pushed it foul. He golfed the next pitch into center for the Nationals' first hit to put them up 2-0.

"I don't hit Volquez very well," Harper said. "If I can lay a bunt down with a guy at third and get a knock and score a run ... but it worked out."

Pitching to Harper backfired for Miami, so the next time he came to bat, when the Nationals again had a runner in scoring position, Marlins manager Don Mattingly opted for an intentional walk. Zimmerman foiled the strategy with a two-run double.

"They've got a good lineup," Mattingly said. "They put you in a box in a number of ways."

Volquez allowed a season-high six runs in 4 2/3 innings.

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