MIAMI -- With the club hanging on the fringes of the postseason race and right-hander Jose Fernandez approaching 180 innings, the Marlins had discussed the possibility of Tuesday night being Fernandez's final start this season.
Then, Fernandez delivered his most dominant outing of the year, striking out 12 in a season-high eight innings to lead the Marlins to a 1-0 victory over the Nationals at Marlins Park.
Both pitchers traded zeros until the sixth when Giancarlo Stanton hammered a solo home run off Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark. Fernandez took care of the rest, lasting a season-high eight innings with 12 strikeouts.
"Obviously, a really well-pitched game, both sides," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "Jose, I feel like it was the best game he's thrown all year. He used his changeup early in the game, that was a weapon for him all game, keeping them off balance. That eighth, to get out of that."
The Marlins remained four games out of a National League Wild Card spot as they continue to fight for their postseason lives. Washington lost its fourth consecutive game, as its magic number to clinch the NL East is now at four, as the Mets fell to the Braves.
Fernandez had struggled a bit lately, posting a 4.02 ERA in his last nine starts, with Miami dropping six of them. However, the Nationals have never been able to solve Fernandez, who lowered his career ERA against them to 0.99.
"I think it's all the process of learning how to pitch and trying to make a pitch and not overthrow it," Fernandez said. "Not trying to make it unhittable and just try to put it where they can't do so much damage and get a ground ball."
Roark did do his best to end that skid, tossing seven innings of one-run ball on three hits with five strikeouts.
"[A losing streak] seems more prevalent, especially when things happen this time of the year," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "We're not hitting with runners in scoring position. Most times when you're in a four-game losing streak, that's what you're not doing."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Big day for Jose: Fernandez is known for racking up strikeouts, but the 24-year-old rarely throws as many as eight innings. He has been on a flexible innings plan all season, but on Tuesday, manager Don Mattingly let Fernandez push it. So the two-time All-Star came out for the eighth, striking out Clint Robinson, making it 21 straight retired by Fernandez. But he allowed back-to-back singles, putting runners on the corners with one out. Fernandez got out of it by striking out Danny Espinosa on a 90.8-mph changeup and inducing a groundout to second by pinch-hitter Daniel Murphy. Fernandez has thrown eight innings six times in his career, with the last being on April 29, 2014, against the Braves. Fernandez fanned 12, giving him nine double-digit strikeout games on the season.
"I was just trying to get quick outs and follow the game plan," Fernandez said. "With the lineup [the Nationals] have, they can do some damage." More >
Hanging with the big boys: Roark threw seven innings for the 18th time this season, surpassing the 200-innings mark for the first time in his career. In 12 of those starts, he has allowed one run or fewer, tied with the Cubs' Jon Lester for most in the big leagues. He continues to establish himself among the best pitchers in the Majors, lowering his ERA to 2.70 on the season.
"He's been great all year," Baker said. "The thing about it is he's been the model of consistency. He has a very low ERA. He usually doesn't walk people. He's been outstanding." More >
Stanton strikes again: It wasn't as thunderous a blast as he belted on Monday night, but Stanton's opposite-field shot in the sixth inning put Miami on the board. The drive, according to Statcast™, projected 374 feet from home plate, with an exit velocity of 100 mph and a launch angle of 31 degrees. Stanton on Monday blistered a 448-foot homer with a 115-mph exit velocity to left-center.
Stanton now has 28 home runs and 65 RBIs in his career against the Nationals, personal highs against an opponent in both categories. But Stanton's night was over after six innings, as he was replaced by Ichiro Suzuki in right field for the seventh inning. Because Stanton is still easing back from his Grade 3 left groin strain, he isn't being pushed to go nine innings.
"That one was just a little late -- good swing, good contact," Stanton said. "It wasn't like a hard drive or nothing. It was a good bat path to a ball over the plate." More >
"I'm sitting there watching him, and I'm like, 'I might not be pitching. He's got a chance to go CG for us, and it would be awesome.' I was fortunate enough to get the last three outs and get him the W. It was a huge win for us. We need as many as we can get. We're still fighting. We're swimming upstream, but we're still swimming, at least." -- Marlins reliever David Phelps, who was told pregame he was closing in place of A.J. Ramos, who worked four of five days.
"I know Jose is good here at home. The way I look at it is, 'Me versus him,' not, 'Me versus the hitters' or anything like that. It's me versus him, and tonight, he got the win, they got the win. Hats off to him." -- Roark, on Fernandez
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The 21 in a row Fernandez retired from the first until the eighth inning is a career high. His previous was 17, done twice, the last on June 11 against the D-backs. The franchise record is 23, held by Ricky Nolasco (Aug. 18, 2008, at Houston) and Kevin Brown (June 10, 1997, at San Francisco).
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: Washington turns to ace Max Scherzer (17-7, 2.78 ERA) to try and avoid being swept during Wednesday night's series finale at 7:10 p.m. ET at Marlins Park. Since joining the Nationals at the start of last season, Scherzer owns a 3.31 ERA against the Marlins.
Marlins:Tom Koehler (9-11, 3.96 ERA) closes out the three-game set, going for his 10th win. Koehler is 1-1 with a 2.12 ERA in three starts against Washington this season.