Thought to be a strength, pitching comes up short as Marlins’ struggles continue

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Kevin Slowey adjusts his cap after giving up a walk to Washington Nationals' Danny Espinosa during the fifth inning.

Lynne Sladky/ASSOCIATED PRESS

MIAMI — Both the Marlins and Nationals entered their three-game set hoping to change their fortune following sweeps.

Washington lost third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (fractured thumb) and center fielder Denard Span (concussion) over the weekend as the Braves earned early-season bragging rights in the National League East.

Miami floundered during a winless six-game roadtrip, struggling to pitch and get timely hits.

After opening the season with a 5-2 record, the Marlins have now dropped eight in a row with a 9-2 loss Monday night at Marlins Park.

"We need a big pitching performance or a big hit or a big play to spark us and get us going," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "Those guys understand that and hopefully that will come tomorrow."

Marlins vs. Nationals

Much of the same happened on Monday.

After ranking second in the NL with a .333 average with runners in scoring position, the Marlins are hitting .148 since the start of the roadtrip. They went 1 for 7 against right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Blake Treinen.

It’s a familiar problem for Washington, which couldn’t find the big hit in Atlanta but did in Miami.

"It’s not going to happen every day, but we just want to keep creating those in every way we can," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "Whether it’s base hits or extra-base hits or the like — those opportunities are presented and eventually it will happen. Some days it just doesn’t, and you saw that over the weekend a little bit, but today it did for us, and that’s a good thing."

The Marlins must rely on that mentality.

They have now lost 13 of 15 to the Nationals, this time against a lineup missing Zimmerman, Span and first baseman Adam LaRoche.

Left-hander Brad Hand, in the rotation with righty Jacob Turner on the disabled list, has now given up eight runs on 12 hits over 6 1/3 innings in two starts.

Redmond didn’t know yet what would be done about the starting spot, but he said "we have to figure something out."

"It’s very frustrating," Hand said. "I tried to go out there and get a win, but I made too many mistakes."

Starting pitching — expected to be the club’s strength — has been the opposite.

During spring training, Miami posted the fifth-lowest ERA. Hand and a few relievers even tossed a no-hitter against the Yankees in Panama. Last year, pitchers set a franchise-low ERA. So far in 2014, the starters rank 25th of 30 teams with a 4.80 ERA and 4-6 record.

"Pitching is the key," Redmond said. "We have to be able to hold them down and give our offense a chance. We got down early and just never could recover. It’s tough to cover those innings when you only get three out of the starter. It puts pressure on our bullpen."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.