Tom Koehler shows mettle in grinding through tough outing against Nationals

Tom Koehler allowed two runs in six innings during the Marlins' loss to the Nationals on Monday.

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JUPITER, Fla. — When Marlins first baseman Garrett Jones turned a double play in the sixth inning of Monday afternoon’s game against the Nationals, all but right-hander Tom Koehler bolted for the dugout.

Apparently Koehler — focused on every pitch during his "roughest" spring outing — was the only player on the field who knew there were only two outs.

"I was covering first and they get the out (at second) and everybody just took off," Koehler said. "I said to Jones, ‘Hey, we didn’t get an out before that.’ I don’t know if he heard me. They kept going. Everyone. Outfielders. We sold it. It’s almost like we were working on it. (Maybe it’s) having to be even more locked in today."

That’s because after cruising through his first four spring starts, Koehler battled through six innings in a 4-1 loss at Roger Dean Stadium.

Koehler limited the damage by allowing just two runs on five hits on 91 pitches (54 strikes). Koehler’s only strikeout came in the fourth inning on a 93 mph fastball to Scott Hairston.

The 27-year-old walked two batters and faced six three-ball counts in a game that started on time despite rain that kept the tarp on the field less than an hour prior to first pitch.

"I was getting a little quick with my delivery," Koehler said. "I wasn’t staying on it like I had been, really driving the fastball downhill. When I throw the fastball downhill, everything plays off that. I had to compensate in certain situations to make sure I got pitches over."

Washington’s first four batters reached base to open the game, but the Nationals scored just one run.

Denard Span singled before Koehler picked him off. Jeff Kobernus singled and scored on Nate McClouth’s double to right. Wilson Ramos walked, Danny Espinosa grounded into a fielder’s choice and Hairston grounded out to third to end the frame.

"I thought Tommy did all right," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "Today was one of those days where you had the weather, weren’t sure if we were going to start on time. Got off to a rough start from the beginning, but you’re not going to have your best stuff every single day.

"He minimized the damage and he got through it. At the end of the day had that been the regular season he gave us a chance and gave us some solid innings. Sometimes that’s good for pitchers to go through days like that when you have to pitch and keep grinding. He was able to do that."

Koehler bounced back to retire 13 of the next 15 batters, which included consecutive perfect innings in the fourth and fifth. He needed just five pitches to get through the fifth.

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McClouth snapped that stretch with a solo home run to begin the sixth. Ramos followed with a single before the double play and Hairston flyout.

"Today was a grind from Pitch One, obviously," Koehler said. "Knowing that I had a 90-pitch pitch count from there on I just tried to get ahead and get as many quick outs as I could."

Over his first four spring appearances, Koehler had given up just one run on seven hits in 12 innings with 11 strikeouts and two walks.

With his final start scheduled for Saturday, Koehler’s overall performance makes him the likely fifth starter in the rotation over lefty Brad Hand and non-roster invitee Kevin Slowey.

"It’s easy to go out there and feel good about outings when you have your best stuff and the game’s a breeze, but to go out there and know that you’re pretty much going to be battling from Pitch One and to give your team six innings and keep them in the game," Koehler said, "that’s what can make or break a team."

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