The Nationals opened their first series of the season against the Marlins down in Miami on Monday night, and if it was any indication of the games to come between the two teams, the Nats are in for a dog fight.
Josiah Gray took the mound for the Nationals and as he has done so often recently, he delivered. Gray went 7 innings allowing 2 runs (1 earned) on 7 hits with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts. His tough inning came in the 2nd when the Marlins loaded the bases with 1 out, Gray got Joey Wendle to hit a groundball to first. Dom Smith went for the out at second and on the return throw from CJ Abrams, Gray was pulled off the bag and collided with the runner Wendle. Gray initially held onto the ball but then dropped it, which allowed a second runner to score since the out was not recorded at first. The error was unfortunately charged to Gray, but he made a good play to contain the errant throw from Abrams.
Gray also loaded the bases in the 7th after a single and a double with one out, followed by an intentional walk to Luis Arraez to load the bases after Gray struck out Garrett Cooper for the second out of the inning (this will be important to remember). On a full count, Gray got Jorge Soler to ground out to end the inning and maintain the one run deficit.
The Nats didn't get anything going on offense until late in the game. Lane Thomas broke the shutout with an opposite field homerun to lead off the 6th inning.
It wasn't yet enough, as Gray departed the bottom half of the 7th facing a one run deficit and was still on the hook for the loss. That was when the Nationals finally answered on an RBI single by Jeimer Candelario to tie the game and at the very least, not leave Gray on the hook for the loss. They were not done there though, as after an Alex Call walk to load the bases, Dom Smith delivered his arguably most significant hit of the season to score two runs and take a 4 to 2 lead.
Leaving the top half of the 8th, now with a lead, it appeared as though the Nationals were in a good position. They even made what may be a significant change moving forward, pitching Kyle Finnegan in the 8th inning as opposed to his usual 9th inning role. It didn't start great for Finnegan, as he allowed a single on the first pitch of the inning, followed by an infield single. But after a strikeout, Finnegan dialed up an inning-ending double play to escape the jam and maintain the 2 run lead.
With Finnegan pitching the 8th, that left Hunter Harvey available to pitch the 9th in an attempt to secure the save. After he got his first career save last week, Harvey got two quick outs before Cooper doubled. The Nats had a two run lead, so the runner on second wasn't overly important, but the hitter was. Luis Arraez, who won the AL batting title last season and leads all of baseball in batting average this season, stepped into the box and singled home Cooper on a 1-2 count. Harvey tried to go with back to back curveballs to get Arraez, but he was ready the second time. The Nationals could have elected to intentionally walk Arraez again with first base open, as they did in the 7th inning, but they opted to pitch to him and paid the price. This is where Harvey began to struggle with location as you could notice the change in command. After going 3-2 on the next batter Jorge Soler, nearly missing twice in the at bat, Harvey tried to muscle a fastball by Soler, who did not miss. Soler hit a walk-off moonshot homerun to steal the Nationals' comeback attempt and make it their own, scoring 3 runs in the 9th to win the opening game of the series.
It was a heartbreaker for the Nats as they fought hard to regain the lead. They do need to get their offense started sooner in the game, as they struck out 12 times in the game, but this was certainly a winnable game for Washington and one they'll want to flush and forget about as they look to even up the series tonight with MacKenzie Gore on the mound.