Nats open series vs. Marlins with eye on home field
WASHINGTON -- There will be plenty of raw emotion at Nationals Park on Friday when the Miami Marlins begin a three-game series against the Washington Nationals.
The series opener comes a day after a memorial service in Florida for Jose Fernandez, the ace of the Marlins who died in a boating accident Sunday.
Among those on hand for the Thursday service was Washington pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who grew up in the Miami area and like Fernandez has Cuban heritage.
Gonzalez started at home Wednesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks and was tagged with the loss.
The starting pitchers Friday will be Nationals right-hander A.J. Cole (1-2, 5.09 ERA) against Marlins right-hander Andrew Cashner (5-11, 5.13).
Cole has never faced Arizona. Cashner, who last opposed the Nationals in 2015, is 2-4 with a 4.03 ERA in 11 games (six starts) against them.
Washington (93-66) enters play Friday with a two-game edge over the Los Angeles Dodgers (91-68) in the race for the home-field advantage in the National League Division Series. The NL East and NL West champions will face off beginning Oct. 7. The Dodgers own the tiebreaker after going 5-1 against Washington this year.
The Nationals beat the Diamondbacks 5-3 Thursday in a light rain. If the game had been rained out, Arizona may have had to return to play Monday if the game had a bearing on the home-field edge.
"We just feel fortunate we got the game in," Washington manager Dusty Baker said. "I'm glad we got the game in. It was a blessing we got the game in."
Cole was ejected Sunday in Pittsburgh when he threw a pitch behind Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang. That led to Major League Baseball suspending Cole for five games, but he appealed the penalty.
Cole will be making his eight major league start of the year. He made his big league debut in April 2015 but spent most of the 2016 season at Triple-A Syracuse, where he went 8-8 with a 4.62 ERA in 22 starts.
Washington's Bryce Harper is 4-for-6 in his career against Cashner. Harper has been out since Sunday with a sore thumb but could see action this weekend. Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth is 6-for-10 against Cashner.
Washington MVP candidate Daniel Murphy (buttocks strain) is not slated to start during the series, though he could see action off the bench. Baker said he hopes to get Murphy healthy for the postseason.
Miami (78-80) was eliminated from playoff contention with home loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday. The Marlins were off Thursday as they attended the Fernandez service.
"It was tough to have a lot of emotion out there," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said after the Wednesday defeat. "I know our guys were trying. We owe that to the Cardinals and Giants (who are chasing the Mets in the NL wild-card race). Our guys did the best they possibly could, but it was a tough game to play."
Marlins standout Martin Prado echoed those thoughts.
"It's going to take a long time for our Fish family to recover from this," he said of losing Fernandez. "It's a devastating loss for everybody. I feel sorry for his mother and family because Jose was one of the biggest reasons why they came to America."