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Nats shut out again by Marlins

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Nats shut out again by Marlins

It was only 12 days ago when Ricky Nolasco was handed the ball by Ozzie Guillen to face the Nationals and didn't give it back to his manager until he had completed a five-hit shutout.

When the 29-year-old right-hander was again handed the ball by Guillen on Sunday afternoon, members of the Nationals certainly were familiar with his repertoire and though that would have played to their advantage.

"Normally, I would say yes," Adam LaRoche said. "But I guess not in this case."

No, not at all. Nolasco didn't just enjoy another successful outing against the Nationals. He shut them out again, this time allowing a scant four hits while once again going the distance during an 8-0 throttling of the previously red-hot, best team in baseball.

"He did the exact same thing," LaRoche said. "He was the exact same pitcher. We knew what we 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."

It would be one thing if this appeared to be a downward trend for the Nationals lineup, except that doesn't appear to be the case at all. After Nolasco's previous gem in South Florida, the Nationals proceeded to score 84 runs over their next 11 games.

Then came Sunday's series finale, when they didn't produce a hit off Nolasco -- owner of a 2.75 ERA against Washington this year, 4.79 against everyone else -- until the fifth and didn't put two men on base in the same inning until the ninth.

"The guys say when he wants to, he's one heck of a pitcher," manager Davey Johnson said.

It didn't help that Johnson fielded a lineup minus two key regulars: Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond. Zimmerman was given a rare day off; Desmond asked out to give his lingering hamstring strain a rest.

Truth be told, the Nationals might have missed those players' presence in the field more than at the plate, especially Desmond.

With Danny Espinosa shifted to shortstop and Steve Lombardozzi taking over second base, Johnson sacrificed some range up the middle. That proved costly when the Marlins rapped out three consecutive, two-out, groundball singles up the middle to ignite a second-inning rally.

None of the grounders made for an easy play, but it was hard not to think Desmond at shortstop and Espinosa at second base might have had a better chance to snag at least one of them.

"No doubt. No doubt," Johnson said. "But those guys out there can play, too. Espi's played a great short, Lombo a great second. Those were just some well-placed balls, hard-hit."

The seeing-eye singles proved especially costly moments later, when Nolasco stepped to the plate and lofted a flyball to deep center field. Bryce Harper had to run a long way but was in position to make the catch, only to lose the ball in the sun at the last second and watch it fall harmlessly to the ground for a gift, two-run double.

That wasn't the only time the sun wreaked havoc with outfielders on Sunday. Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton also missed a routine flyball, and center fielder Justin Ruggiano nearly did as well before recovering in time to make the catch.

"It was just a big, bright blue sky, with a very large sun," Jayson Werth said. "It's hard to explain. If you're not out there every day, you wouldn't even notice. But it was tough to see, no question."

The three runs Miami scored in the top of the second weren't much the fault of Edwin Jackson, but the Nationals starter (celebrating his 29th birthday) didn't enjoy a strong afternoon. He let three more runs score later and wound up getting pulled with only two outs in the fifth, having been charged with six earned runs on nine hits, two walks and a hit batter.

"I've just got to do a better job of making pitches out of the stretch with men on base," Jackson said, "a better job of damage control."

By the time Jackson departed, the damage was done. When Stanton launched his 10th homer in 20 career games on South Capitol Street in the top of the seventh, the Nationals trailed by a touchdown.

By day's end, their offense never even advanced into the Red Zone.

Thus made for something of an awkward scene in the clubhouse, the laughter and playfulness that usually comes on the day veterans make rookies dress up for a train ride to New York -- this year's costume: leotards made to look like those worn by the U.S. Olympics women's gymnastics team -- offset by the sting of a lopsided loss and the realization their lead over the Braves in the NL East is down to 5 12 games with 22 to play.

"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-whupping."

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

RELATED: NATIONALS REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE

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Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

When it comes to sports, we sometimes forget that the athletes we look up to are just normal people. Normal people who have a lot to prove to millions of people on a weekly basis. Former Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel has discussed one of his human moments in an interview with 590 The Fan in St. Louis.

Ankiel admitted to drinking vodka during his plight as a pitcher. He referenced his first two starts of the 2001 season, in particular against the Arizona Diamondbacks where he allowed his anxiety to give in to alcohol to soothe him. In the previous postseason, he became the first pitcher since 1980 to throw five wild pitches in a single inning. 

It may have worked for a couple of games but Ankiel eventually realized it was only making matters worse.

Ankiel began playing in Majors at the age of 19, and has had a fluctuating career through six teams. All the while, he has kept a “never give up” mentality.

Why the sudden need to vent? Ankiel is getting up close and personal with his upcoming book, “The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed my Life” which is co-written by sports writer Tim Brown. The book will be released on April 18.  

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