The Miami Marlins could have safely assumed two things heading into their Opening Day game against Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals.
1. They’d probably need a well-pitched game from Ricky Nolasco and the relievers.
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2. They’d likely need to make the most of any scoring opportunities against one of baseball’s best pitchers.
Nolasco certainly did his part, allowing just three hits in six innings. Unfortunately for Miami, two of the hits were Bryce Harper solo home runs that gave Washington a 2-0 victory at Nationals Park on Monday afternoon.
Harper, last year’s National League Rookie of the Year, entered this season swinging a hot bat after hitting .478 this spring. He wasted little time in satisfying the D.C. crowd, sending a hanging 1-0 curve into the right-field seats with two out in the first.
Washington’s young offensive star then led off the fourth by homering on a 3-2 Nolasco slider.
“Ricky did a nice job,” Miami’s Mike Redmond said after his first game as a major league manager. “Obviously, he made just two bad pitches there for home runs and that was the difference in the game. Otherwise, we’d still be out there playing.”
Nolasco thought he only made one mistake.
“The first ball, I wasn’t really expecting him to swing,” Nolasco said, “but he’s aggressive and I laid it in there and he hit it out.
“The rest of the way, I thought I threw the ball pretty well. Even the second (homer) was a decent pitch. He just went down there and got it.”
Hopefully for Redmond and the Marlins, other Miami starters were watching Nolasco minimize damage and give his team a chance to win the game.
Then again, it also wouldn’t have hurt if members of the Marlins rotation took notes on Strasburg. The Nationals right-hander, whose 2012 season was cut short by a team-imposed pitch count, looked to be in midseason form with seven shutout innings.
Strasburg surrendered a single to Juan Pierre leading off the game, then retired 19 straight Marlins until Giancarlo Stanton doubled with one out in the seventh.
Stanton’s two-bagger put a runner in scoring position with less than two outs. Against Strasburg and the Nats, such situations need to be converted.
Marlins newcomer Placido Polanco reached on an infield single, with Stanton advancing to third.
All of a sudden, the Marlins had the tying runs on base with one out.
Lefty Rob Brantly hit a fly to short left field, where Harper made the catch before throwing home on a fly to keep Stanton at third.
Catcher Wilson Ramos, however, caught Polanco straying from first base. A rundown ensued, allowing Stanton to break for home. The Marlins star was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
Polanco made an error in judgment, and the veteran knows it.
“(Polanco) thought Stanton was going to go,” Redmond was quoted on MLB.com. “He faked halfway down the line, and he stopped. I think that’s what happened, he took off because he thought he was going to go. Stanton would have been out anyway.
“Plays like that get magnified when we only get three hits. That’s the difference.”
Opening day represents just one of 162 games — a loooong season. And losing to Strasburg and the defending NL East champs is no embarrassment. In fact, it probably was expected by many people.
But the 2013 Miami Marlins will need to get good pitching, play intelligent baseball and manufacture runs to be successful.
Nolasco and relievers Chad Qualls and Mike Dunn — one scoreless inning apiece — did their part on Monday. The Marlins baserunners did not.