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Nats' bats soggy in loss to Marlins

Estrada's first start abbreviated as offense outmatched

By David Villavicencio / MLB.com

Sunday, September 13, 2009 1:29 AM ET

Marco Estrada lasted 2 1/3 innings, allowing five runs on three hits. MIAMI -- Justin Maxwell and Ian Desmond both had huge games as the Nationals outhit the Marlins, but Washington's pitching could not slow down its division rival's offense.

The Marlins used a barrage of big flies to beat the Nationals, 11-3, and even the series before 38,214 fans at Land Shark Stadium.

Florida's Jorge Cantu pounded Washington starter Marco Estrada early to spoil his first big league start. The Marlins' third baseman drove in all five runs allowed by Estrada over his 2 1/3 innings on Saturday. Cantu drove in a trio of runs in the first inning on a three-run homer to center and pushed home a pair in the third on a double off the left-field wall.

"This guy is clutch," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Cantu. "This guy gives you a professional at-bat. You want him at the plate in situations where he drives in runs."

Estrada finished allowing five runs on three hits while striking out four and walking three, but Nationals manager Jim Riggleman believes his team's struggles went beyond the performance of the starting pitcher.

"He threw some good pitches, but the overwhelming impression that I have in my mind of him and everybody who pitched tonight was: we didn't throw strikes," Riggleman said. "We just dabbled around, got behind everybody, put the hitters in hitters' counts. You can't pitch that way. Just one of those nights where nobody threw strikes. I know Marco was having trouble. We were trying to get him some rosin out there. He just couldn't grip the ball. I'll make that excuse for him. I know he's not going to. But we just pitched terrible. That's not going to work."

The 26-year-old was disappointed with how his first big league start went and was frustrated with his inability to make pitches when he needed to.

"When I threw my bullpen, I felt pretty good, but I went out there and grabbed a rosin bag that was wet and had slick hands, and for some reason, I just couldn't get it off and it was in my mind the whole time," Estrada said. "Other than that, I felt good. My body felt good, I just wish that wouldn't have happened, because I know I would have had better control and things wouldn't have gone the way they did. I couldn't make the pitches at the right time, and it cost us the ballgame."

Maxwell made the most of his opportunity to start on Saturday night. Playing in place of Elijah Dukes, who was scratched with a stiff back, the 25-year-old blasted an 0-1 slider from Anibal Sanchez into the right-field seats in the second to score the Nationals' first run. Maxwell belted another homer in the eighth to put up his first career multihomer game.

"I got a couple of good pitches and didn't miss them," Maxwell said. "I just play the game, and tonight I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to start, and I tried to make the most of it."

Desmond did not disappoint at the plate either, finishing 4-for-4 with two doubles and a walk. Riggleman was impressed with how his two young players performed against a team with playoff aspirations.

"Desmond continues to play well," Riggleman said. "He's very athletic, and him and Maxwell were the story tonight. It's a credit to the player development system and scouting to identify those guys and now they're here. We'll see if we can get enough at-bats between now and the end of the year to get a real good read. They're playing good."

Despite a big day from two of their top young prospects, the Nationals could not overcome a tough pitching performance. Florida added three runs in the sixth thanks to home runs from center fielder Cody Ross and pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez off former Marlins reliever Logan Kensing.

"It seems ridiculous, but we got more hits than they did tonight," Riggleman said. "We outhit them. We hit some home runs. But they had baserunners on all the time. We threw probably 200 pitches. They were in scoring position all night. They hit the ball out of the ballpark, and it's not even a close game. Outhitting somebody and losing is not a fluky thing. But losing by eight or nine runs, that's not going to happen too often. And that's just an indication of how bad we pitched."

David Villavicencio is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.