Nationals look to continue domination of Marlins

MIAMI — The last-place Miami Marlins, who play host to the Washington Nationals on Sunday, haven’t been very good — or very lucky — lately.

Case in point came Saturday when the Marlins appeared headed for a win. Wei-Yin Chen was five outs from a two-hit shutout and he had only thrown 89 pitches.

But then light-hitting Nationals second baseman Wilmer Difo stepped to the plate. On a 2-2 pitch on the outside corner, Difo appeared to be fooled. But he got his bat on the ball and pulled it to left field, where it struck the foul pole to tie the score 1-1.

The Nationals added three more runs in the ninth and won 4-1 for their 10th straight victory in their rivalry with the Marlins. That tied a franchise record for most consecutive wins against one opponent, a mark first set in 1994 against the San Diego Padres.

On Sunday afternoon, the Nationals will try to sweep the Marlins and put Miami alone atop their domination list.

The Nationals will start right-hander Stephen Strasburg (5-4, 3.36 ERA) against Miami right-hander Elieser Hernandez (0-1, 2.08).

Strasburg doesn’t like pitching in hot, humid weather such as what he will find in Miami, yet he is undefeated in his past six starts against the Marlins. In fact, he has pitched 18 consecutive scoreless innings against the Marlins.

“I’m from San Diego,” Strasburg told masnsports.com recently. “I pitched in the Mountain West Conference (in college). I enjoy pitching in the cold much more than in humidity.”

The good news for him is that it rained all day Saturday, and more wet stuff is expected Sunday, which means that the roof will be closed at Marlins Park, making it less humid inside the stadium.

Strasburg has pitched at least six innings in all 10 of his starts this season. He is also working on a streak of four straight quality starts.

After winning a combined total of 30 games the past two years, extending his streak to double-figure victories to four straight seasons, Strasburg has established himself as a big-time pitcher worthy of his No. 1 overall draft status in 2009.

On Sunday, he will be opposed by the 23-year-old Hernandez, a rookie from Venezuela who has been impressive since making his major-league debut on May 10.

After allowing just one run in three innings in two relief appearances, Hernandez has made two starts. Each time, he allowed just one run in five innings.

Behind him on Sunday, Hernandez figures to find an alignment that is new as of this weekend.

JT Riddle, 26, was brought up from Triple-A New Orleans on Saturday and installed at shortstop. Miguel Rojas, a tremendous fielder, has moved from shortstop to third base to fill in for Martin Prado, who injured his left hamstring on Friday and wound up on the disabled list.

“You never hope for injuries,” Riddle said. “I hope for the best for Prado. … But I’m very excited to be back.”

Marlins manager Don Mattingly gave huge praise to Prado — Miami’s unofficial captain — saying that if he had 25 players with his attitude he could win a championship.

“It’s a rough one,” Mattingly said when asked about losing Prado. “I don’t know if there is anyone who cares more than Martin. He plays with a lot of pride.”

The Marlins got just six hits on Saturday, including three by J.T. Realmuto and two by Brian Anderson.

Washington survived despite a rare awful day by its superstar, right fielder Bryce Harper, who went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.

With Harper off his game, the Nationals got two hits each from Juan Soto — the much-hyped 19-year-old rookie — and shortstop Trea Turner.

Meanwhile, the Nationals announced that right-hander Jeremy Hellickson will make his scheduled start on Tuesday. He had to leave his most recent start because of a blister on his right hand.

The Nationals also said left-hander reliever Matt Grace (groin injury) will start a rehab assignment at Double-A Harrisburg on Monday.