The Nationals find a new way to fall short as their skid hits six

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What’s a reasonable expectation when a team starts an inning with a walk, a strikeout, a walk and three consecutive singles? Two runs? A good chance for three? At the least, the rally stretching past those six hitters and to a seventh, then an eighth and maybe even a ninth?

Allow the Washington Nationals to introduce you to what’s unreasonable.

During a 5-2 loss to the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, after beginning the fourth with a walk, a strikeout, a walk and three consecutive singles, they somehow recorded three outs and only scored one run. There was promise when Yadiel Hernandez drove in Juan Soto with a hit off Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara, but the Nationals lost steam because of a pair of mistakes on the base baths.

First, on a single to center by Keibert Ruiz, third base coach Gary DiSarcina waved Josh Bell home. The slow-footed first baseman — who has dealt with right hamstring tightness and a sore left knee in recent days — was thrown out by a good margin. Three pitches later, once Maikel Franco bounced a hit to right, Hernandez ran through DiSarcina’s stop sign and was mowed down on a far closer play.

The Nationals challenged, but the call stood. Their offense, which ranks in the bottom 10 of the major leagues in most major categories, has been too spotty to err in the act of running from one base to the next. The sequence helped shepherd them to their sixth straight loss.

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How did Josiah Gray fare? As many of his starts have gone for Washington (6-13), Gray was sharp aside from a consequential lapse of command in the middle innings and a shaky ending. He fired 23 of his first 27 pitches for strikes. That amounted to two scoreless innings and four strikeouts (all with his slider or curveball). But in the fourth, as his strikeouts climbed to 10 for the second time in his career, Gray lost his control and paid for it.

Under a passing shower, he started the inning with a five-pitch walk to Jesús Sánchez. After that, Gray struck out Avisaíl García with a fastball, yielded a single to Garrett Cooper and hung a first-pitch slider to Joey Wendle, who smacked it for a three-run homer to right-center. Gray recovered enough to nearly complete six innings for the first time this year. His defense — namely shortstop Alcides Escobar — kept him from getting there.

With two on and two down in the sixth for Miami (8-8), catcher Jacob Stallings poked a soft liner toward Escobar. The ball was traveling 79 mph — not particularly fast. But Escobar seemed to mistime his jump and couldn’t haul it in. Instead, the ball nicked his glove and rolled into left field for a single, allowing Cooper, who had doubled, to score.

Gray’s final line included seven hits, four earned runs and three walks. He logged a season-high 98 pitches.

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Did the offense make any other noise? The Nationals put a runner on in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth. They did not break through until Bell singled in Soto in the eighth. Soto and Bell got the best of lefty Richard Bleier, with Soto doubling off the wall in center and Bell roping his hit up the middle. Beyond that, Washington mostly wilted against Alcantara and Miami’s bullpen. Nelson Cruz, signed to protect Soto, logged a leadoff single in the sixth but was retired in his three other plate appearances. The designated hitter’s on-base-plus-slugging percentage dipped to .521.

How long will Dee Strange-Gordon’s rehab assignment last? As of Tuesday afternoon, Manager Dave Martinez didn’t have a definitive answer. Strange-Gordon, who has been sidelined since April 15 with an undisclosed illness, played shortstop for Class AAA Rochester as the Nationals faced the Marlins. Batting leadoff, he walked, struck out and scored twice, then was lifted for a pinch hitter.

Strange-Gordon, 34, took grounders at Nationals Park on Monday and became tired quickly, Martinez said. Everything about his injured list stint — from the lack of an official designation to how Martinez has danced around questions about his status — has mirrored how the club dealt with players who tested positive for the coronavirus during the past two seasons.

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