Nationals-Marlins Preview

If the Washington Nationals’ last game was any indication, Matt Williams can’t afford to rest his regulars many more times if he wants to finish with the NL’s top record.

The Washington manager will look for Gio Gonzalez to get his club back on track in Thursday night’s series opener against the host Miami Marlins.

A day after the Nationals clinched the NL East title, Williams rested a number of everyday players for the series finale at Atlanta, giving starting nods to Michael A. Taylor, Tyler Moore, Steven Souza Jr., Jeff Kobernus and Sandy Leon – players who had participated in a combined 82 games this season prior to Wednesday.

The Nationals’ offensive performance reflected the lack of skill, as they managed five hits in a 3-1 loss to the Braves for only their third defeat in 11 games.

Washington (87-64) squandered a chance to expand its 1 1/2-game lead over the Dodgers for the league’s best record as Los Angeles fell 16-2 at Colorado.

"We’ll give a lot of the regulars a day off today, rest up and get back at it tomorrow," Williams told MLB’s official website. "It’s important to play with that rhythm and timing and feel for the game. This time of year, you take days off and your body shuts down, so we don’t want to give them too much rest, because it’s not good for them, it’s not good for their overall game."

Williams will continue to monitor Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth, who are among the team’s top four RBI producers but continue to deal with nagging back and shoulder injuries, respectively.

Gonzalez (8-10, 3.79 ERA) was also given an extra day of rest after initially being scheduled to pitch Wednesday. He’ll likely be happy to instead face the Marlins, whom he’s beaten in four straight starts while yielding two runs over 25 innings. He limited Miami to three hits in six innings of a 5-0 win on April 8.

The left-hander showed his displeasure with Williams’ decision to pull him 6 2-3 innings into Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Mets with no one on base. Gonzalez, who surrendered three earned runs, slammed the ball into Williams’ hand when he exited.

"We tried our best to diffuse it," said Gonzalez, whose 110 pitches were four shy of a season high. "It’s not bigger than it is."

The Marlins (74-77) come off a 4-3 road win over the Mets but were subdued upon learning that Giancarlo Stanton will miss the rest of the season after being hit in the face by a pitch last week.

"There’s just not enough time for it to properly heal, and for him to get medically cleared to be able to play," manager Mike Redmond said.

Miami has averaged 3.0 runs while splitting six games since losing its MVP candidate. Redmond’s club averaged 4.1 runs previously.

Brad Hand (3-7, 4.36) will look to put together his third straight quality start after giving up two runs over 12 innings while splitting games against Atlanta and Philadelphia. He’ll have to overcome a bad history versus Washington after going 0-4 with an 8.03 ERA in six meetings.

Wednesday marked only the fifth game this month for Danny Espinosa, but he could find himself in the lineup again considering he’s 5 for 11 off Hand with two doubles and a triple.