Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
It's a beautiful, but windy, day as the Nationals host the Marlins.
How that wind affects this game remains to be seen. Because it's a crosswind, it could make life difficult for Matt Chico and Josh Johnson to locate their pitches. Chico will be amped up, making his first big-league start since May 22, 2008. Since then, he's endured Tommy John surgery, the long recovery from that procedure and then another half-season working his way back at Class AA Harrisburg.
Chico wasn't happy that the opened the season at Harrisburg. Obviously he would have preferred to be in Washington, but he felt he should at least have been at Class AAA Syracuse. We'll see if he can channel that aggression into a strong start against a good Marlins lineup.
Nyjer Morgan gets the day off. With the Nationals in the middle of a stretch of 20 straight days with games, Jim Riggleman wants to make sure everyone gets at least one game off, so Morgan is the guy today. Roger Bernadina starts in center field, with Willie Harris in right.
As always, check back here for updates throughout the game...
MARLINS AT NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 74 degrees, Wind 22 mph LF to RF
SS Cristian Guzman
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
RF Willie Harris
CF Roger Bernadina
C Wil Nieves
P Matt Chico
CF Cameron Maybin
1B Gaby Sanchez
SS Hanley Ramirez
3B Jorge Cantu
2B Dan Uggla
C Ronny Paulino
LF Cody Ross
RF Brett Carroll
P Josh Johnson
1:05 p.m. -- Matt Chico's first big-league pitch in two years hits Cameron Maybin.
1:14 p.m. -- Well, that could have been really ugly. After plunking Maybin in the foot, Chico really started laboring, allowed Maybin to take second on a wild pitch and went to a full count on Gaby Sanchez. But the lefty battled through it. He got Sanchez to ground out, Hanley Ramirez to line out and then struck out Jorge Cantu on a nice breaking ball. Fifteen pitches for Chico in the first, 10 of them strikes.
1:32 p.m. -- OK, who is that man in Cristian Guzman's uniform? Is that actually Ian Desmond in disguise? Guzie just made two fine plays at shortstop in the second. He fielded a grounder to his right and astutely threw to Ryan Zimmerman to nail Dan Uggla trying to advance to third. And then he made a sliding stop to his left on Brett Carroll's sharp grounder and flipped to second base for the force out. Nice job in the field from a guy not known for that. We're still scoreless heading to the bottom of the second.
1:55 p.m. -- Still no runs on the board for either team after 3 1/2 innings, with Matt Chico and Josh Johnson each pitching well, albeit in different ways. Chico is finessing his way through the Marlins lineup. He's put four men on base already but has battled his way through it. Vintage Matt Chico. Johnson, meanwhile, is overpowering the Nats' lineup. Only two hits so far (Ryan Zimmerman's single up the middle in the first and Wil Nieves' little dribbler down the third-base line in the third. He's struck out four, all via fastballs that have reached as high as 97 mph. Two different styles of pitching, both getting the job done so far.
2:04 p.m. -- Josh Willingham puts the Nats on the board with ... a triple? Yep. The hammer sent a deep fly ball to right that kept carrying with the wind and banged off the wall, past Brett Carroll. By the time the Marlins got the ball back in, Adam Kennedy had scored from first and Willingham had coasted into third with his first triple since 2008. ... And then moments later, Willie Harris launches another ball into the jet stream and deposits it in the right-center field bleachers. Just like that, the Nationals lead 3-0 in the bottom of the fourth.
2:47 p.m. -- Matt Chico wasn't going to keep a shutout intact forever. Sure enough, he finally succumbed in the sixth inning, allowing a run on a double by Jorge Cantu. Jim Riggleman came to take the ball from him after that, and Chico got a nice ovation as he departed. With the Marlins threatening to tie or even take the lead, Miguel Batista came on and got the job done. He allowed one inherited runner to score on a groundout, but got Ronny Paulino and Cody Ross to end the inning and preserve a 3-2 lead. That's where we now stand, heading to the seventh. Batista is coming back out for the top of the seventh, but Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps are all well-rested and ready to go if needed.
3:04 p.m. -- Clippard's ERA just shot up with one inside fastball to Gaby Sanchez. Sanchez lofted that 1-2 fastball over the left-field fence (through the wind) for a two-run homer that puts the Marlins up 4-3 in the seventh and takes the bloom off Clippard's rose for a little while. Burnett (who faced two batters and walked one) gets charged with the first run. Clippard will get charged with Sanchez's run. Nats now trailing by a run, though they've knocked Josh Johnson out of the game, so they've got a shot against the Marlins' suspect bullpen.
3:10 p.m. -- As if on cue, Willingham sends Burke Badenhop's third pitch into the left-field bleachers. We are tied again, 4-4.
3:20 p.m. -- And Clippard says thank-you to Willingham by mowing down the Marlins in the eighth, striking out Dan Uggla and Ronny Paulino in the process. That's now 28 strikeouts for Clippard in 22 2/3 innings this season. His ERA is up to an un-Clippard-like 0.79. But screw that, send Tyler to Anaheim!
3:32 p.m. -- When in doubt, just let Adam Dunn get hit by a breaking ball from Renyel Pinto with the bases loaded. Nats retake the lead, 5-4, still with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth. Ex-Nat Brian Sanches now taking the mound for Florida to face Willingham.
3:51 p.m. -- Ballgame. Nats win, 5-4. Tyler Clippard improves to 5-0. Matt Capps gets his 12th save in 12 chances. Matt Chico pitches well in his return to the big leagues. Josh Willingham has a big day at the plate. The Nats manufacture the winning run on a hit batter, a bunt single, an error, an intentional walk and another hit batter. Adam Dunn can't haul in Ryan Zimmerman's low throw in the ninth, but comes back to make a nice play getting a force out at second. Go figure.