Control deserts Chico in Nats loss

Control deserts Chico in Nats loss

MIAMI -- Left-hander Matt Chico had walked eight batters in 13 2/3 innings entering Saturday night's game against the Marlins. That didn't prepare any of the Nationals for what they saw at Dolphin Stadium.

Chico had trouble throwing strikes early and often as the Nationals fell behind early and saw the Marlins tie their three-game series at one game apiece, 9-3, before 24,107.

Chico issued seven walks in 4 2/3 innings, including the Marlins' first two hitters of the game, who scored on Cody Ross' two-out hit. He also walked the pitcher twice.

But the pitch that symbolized his night and likely will be shown ad nauseam on ESPN came in the first inning. With a 1-0 count on Josh Willingham, Chico's next pitch sailed into the stands above the Marlins' first-base dugout.

Marlins fans erupted in derisive laughter.

"He just missed," center fielder Ryan Church said, trying to put a little humor on the situation afterward. "[Catcher Brian Schneider] set up outside and he just missed the target."

It quickly became no laughing matter for the Nationals, who fell to 6-12, when they could not overcome the hole that Chico put them in. They rallied to within a run in the fifth inning, after Hanley Ramirez's two-run homer gave the Marlins a 4-1 lead. Ryan Zimmerman and Church drove in the runs.

Yet, that was as close as they could get as the Marlins mauled reliever Ryan Wagner for four runs, three earned, in 1 2/3 innings.

"Today, we just didn't click," second baseman Ronnie Belliard said. "It was one of those long days. But we've got to come back tomorrow and beat them."

Chico said he threw a changeup on the pitch that wound up in the stands. He had told the Nationals to be prepared for something like that to happen three or four times a year, because sometimes he will bump his leg on his delivery.

There was no bump of the leg Saturday night. Chico said he just lost his grip on the ball.

"It was just one of those days where I had trouble finding the zone," he said. "Once I had trouble in the first inning, I started putting too much pressure on myself to throw strikes. It was just something that shouldn't have happened."

He vowed not to watch replays of the errant pitch, but he is likely to check video of his form on this night. Certainly manager Manny Acta appeared to be wondering what happened to him.

"They scored five runs, and the damage could have been worse," Acta said. "They didn't do as much as they could have. That's not what we're looking for."

Acta stopped short of doing anything definitive like declaring the 23-year-old out of the rotation. But it was clear by Acta's reaction to the performance that he won't tolerate something like that for long.

"We made our decision," Acta said. "We knew there would be some bumps. But obviously, you can't walk seven guys, including the pitcher twice."

Acta did like one thing about Chico's performance. He took note that the lefty threw a strike on the next pitch after he had air-mailed the ball into the stands.

"That told me he didn't let it bother him," Acta said.

Back when it was a 4-3 game in the fifth inning, the Nationals would have some offensive opportunities to win a slug/walk-fest. They stranded two runners in the second, third and fifth innings. They had a runner at third with one out in the seventh and drew a blank.

Acta thought Marlins starter Anibal Sanchez, usually tough at home, was off his game Saturday night. He gave up three runs, two earned, in five innings.

"But we didn't take advantage of it," Acta said.

As for Chico, the rookie said he'll be checking to see what went wrong.

"Most of the time, I usually bounce back after a game like this," Chico said. "Unless it's something I'm doing wrong and don't know it."

Not far away, Church was saying about Chico, "He's young. He'll learn."

Church, who had two hits along with Zimmerman, said the Nationals put enough runners on base to put doubt in the Marlins' minds about the outcome.

"We let 'em off the hook," Church said. "But it is what it is. You can't get 'em all. We just have to be ready Sunday."

Charlie Nobles is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.