'Pen springs leak at inopportune time

Nats undone by their 'pen in loss

WASHINGTON -- Closer Joel Hanrahan could not convert another save opportunity in the ninth on Saturday afternoon, as the Nationals fell to the Marlins, 9-6, in 11 innings at Nationals Park.

Washington has lost nine of its first 10 games to start the season.

The Nationals had a 6-3 lead entering the ninth inning, but the Marlins scored three runs off Hanrahan. Pinch-hitter Ross Gload singled to left to drive in Alfredo Amezaga. After Wes Helms struck out, Jeremy Hermida hit a two-run homer over the right-center-field fence to tie the game at 6.

After games, manager Manny Acta is usually stoic and often likes to talk about the positive things that occurred during a contest. That wasn't the case after Saturday's loss. He didn't pull any punches.

"This is very disappointing, discouraging and deflating," Acta said. "There is nothing worse in a game than to be winning it for eight innings, do everything right and lose it in the ninth. That sucks the energy out of everybody."

Hanrahan's face said it all. He was clearly down, and acknowledged that both hits were fastballs down the middle of the plate.

"I basically put the pitches on a tee for them," Hanrahan said. "I was trying to go fastballs away today, and I kind of pulled it over the middle of the plate. ... We have a three-run lead, and I blow it. It's pretty disappointing."

In the top of the 11th inning, Hermida did it again, hitting a three-run home run against left-hander Wil Ledezma. It was lefty vs. lefty. The perfect matchup for Ledezma, but he threw a hanging slider to Hermida, who ended up with five RBIs for the game.

"It was a very poor showing for our bullpen. It's just deflating," Acta said.

Before the ninth, it looked like the power of Austin Kearns and the left arm of Scott Olsen would be enough for the victory.

Olsen was given a five-run cushion after one inning. With Josh Johnson on the mound, Ryan Zimmerman singled off the glove of shortstop Hanley Ramirez to drive in Anderson Hernandez. Three batters later, Kearns took a 1-2 pitch and hit a grand slam to give the Nationals a 5-0 lead.

Olsen struggled in the top of the second inning, when Ronny Paulino hit a two-run homer. After that, it was smooth sailing. The lefty lasted seven innings and gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits. It was the Nationals' third straight quality start. Hanrahan later apologized to Olsen for costing him his victory as a National.

"He was tremendous," Acta said of Olsen. "He was able to throw every one of his pitches for strikes. He had an incredible amount of fastballs for strikes. He used both sides of the plate. That's what we are anticipating to get out of this guy more often than not."

Washington added another run in the second inning, when Nick Johnson singled to left-center to drive in Olsen before the Marlins made their comeback and won the game.

Marlins pitching held Washington to one hit the rest of the way, and Adam Dunn felt the Nationals should have put the game away after taking a 5-0 lead in the first inning.

"It's the same old story every single game: We have pitchers on the ropes, we have big opportunities to blow the game open. [Five] to nothing is good, but it could have been 10-0," Dunn said. "And then Johnson pitches six innings and we [get one hit after the second]. We need to get that killer instinct. Right now, we don't have it."

But the talk in the clubhouse was whether Hanrahan could close out games for the Nationals. He's 27 years old and in his first full season in the role. But acting general manager Mike Rizzo said that Hanrahan is the right man for the job.

"We have played well enough to win four or five games," Rizzo said. "Yeah, there is a concern about the bullpen, but Hanrahan is our guy. He has a good arm and has good stuff. He is a young closer, but he has to go through growing pains. If I looked at you in the face and told you that I'm not concerned about the bullpen, I can't say that. Joel gets the ball tomorrow with the lead."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.