WASHINGTON -- Over his last five starts, Dan Straily has allowed 16 runs in 26 1/3 innings. Seven of those runs have come in the sixth inning.
So, after the Marlins' 3-2 loss to the Nationals on Thursday night, Straily wasn't in the mood to talk about the sixth inning, when he surrendered two runs after facing one over the minimum through five frames.
But Straily's frantic frame began with the Marlins missing a pickoff call. Miami wanted to catch Brian Goodwin at second base with one out and Wilmer Difo hitting so they could avoid pitching to Bryce Harper. That attempt to pick off Goodwin never happened.
Even though Difo flied out, Harper knocked an RBI double in the next at-bat to tie the game at 2. After walking Ryan Zimmerman, Straily exited.
Straily thought the sign called on Thursday was a different sign all season, and it came back to cost him in his 24th start of the year, a rare blunder this deep into the campaign.
"We don't want to pitch to Harper," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "We're trying not to pitch to Zimmerman either, actually. We had a back pick on, and instead of throwing a back pick, we throw a pitch. That cost us."
Added Straily: "It's frustrating to miss a sign like that. Miss the sign and miss the location on the pitch. Miss both."
Still, Straily's recent issues go beyond miscommunication. The right-hander hasn't lasted more than six innings since July 7, and the Marlins have lost his last six outings. This happens to coincide with bruising his right thumb on July 14.
Straily has arguably been Miami's best pitcher this season in a depleted rotation, and the 28-year-old posted a 3.31 ERA entering the All-Star break. Still, Mattingly hasn't seen a difference in Straily, as a mix of his pitches have had good movement. Mattingly said Straily's struggles come down to poor pitch location.
But the Marlins have needed Straily at his best with Edinson Volquez undergoing Tommy John surgery last week, Chris O'Grady expected to miss a significant amount of time with a right oblique strain and Wei-Yin Chen still working his way back from his elbow injury. Adam Conley has also had trouble escaping the sixth inning, permitting a combined six runs in that frame over his past two outings.
Straily is one of just three healthy Marlins starters with an ERA below 5.00. Jose Urena and Vance Worley have proven themselves as the most impressive arms of late, with Urena notching a combined 1.29 ERA in his past two starts and Worley giving up just one run over 13 innings in his previous two appearances.
Miami's rotation entered Thursday with the fifth-worst ERA in the Major Leagues. The Marlins have relied on their bullpen without steady starters, as their relievers entered with the second-most innings in the big leagues.
Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.