"[Clippard] has been letter perfect. We have been scoring so many runs, he hasn't pitched much either and that's not real good," manager Davey Johnson said. "It's feast or famine. That's the problem with closing. You can be really busy in tight ballgames -- a lot of them in a row -- and then you cannot be used. I think it's just being a little rusty."
But the way the Nationals have been playing this year, one had a feeling that the game wasn't over yet. With closer Steve Cishek on the mound, the Nats trimmed the deficit to two. Adam LaRoche scored on a single by Michael Morse. At first, It looked like a routine ground ball to second baseman Donnie Murphy, but the ball bounced off second-base umpire Tony Randazzo and went to the outfield.
Ian Desmond then doubled to put runners on second and third with no outs. After Danny Espinosa struck out, Kurt Suzuki was walked intentionally to load the bases. However, Cishek struck out Roger Bernadina and Jayson Werth to end the game.
"There is no give up," Johnson said. "We battled back. We had the right people. All the people that came up are pretty good hitters. We just didn't get it done."
The loss ended up hurting the Nationals, who are now 6 1/2 games ahead of the Braves in the National League East. Atlanta blanked the Mets, 3-0, at Citi Field on Friday night.
Stephen Strasburg's season is coming to an end soon, and he had his worst outing of the year in what seemed like a repeat of his Aug. 28 start against Miami. In that game, Strasburg lasted five innings and allowed seven runs -- five earned -- in a 9-0 loss.
On Friday, Strasburg, who is on an innings limit because of Tommy John surgery in late 2010, didn't have any answers against the Marlins, lasting three innings and allowing five runs on six hits. He threw 67 pitches, 37 for strikes.
"I don't know. I'm not seeing anything," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Maybe we're not trying to do too much. We swing at strikes, we made him throw strikes the last couple of games because we're not chasing bad pitches."
Strasburg's final game of the season has been expected to be Wednesday against the Mets, but Johnson isn't too sure. Johnson believes the impending shutdown was on Strasburg's mind throughout the game.
"He is thinking too much about the decision that we are going to shut him down. He didn't like it. That's the way it is," Johnson said. "I think he wasn't as focused as much on the game as he was on the impending shutdown. That's the way I read it.
"I can understand where he was at. Even in the conversations that I had with him, he was having trouble sleeping thinking about letting the guys down. So I understand his mood."
Asked if the short outing could affect the team's plans for Strasburg and his final start, Johnson said, "It might."
Strasburg denied the impending shutdown was bothering him. He said simply he didn't have fastball command.
The Marlins scored early and often against Strasburg. In the first inning, Petersen scored on an RBI double by Giancarlo Stanton. Lee followed with a sacrifice fly that scored Reyes.
But the Nationals tied the game in the bottom of the first, when Ryan Zimmerman hit a mammoth two-run homer over the left-field wall.
Strasburg couldn't contain the Marlins, however. In the second, Rob Brantly hit a solo homer to make it 3-2. The Marlins added to the scoring an inning later, with Stanton hitting a home run that landed in the right center-field seats. Three batters later, Strasburg allowed an RBI single to Donovan Solano.
"I didn't command the fastball," Strasburg said. "I kept getting behind in the count. I kept falling behind. I wasn't able to use other pitches effectively. They teed off on me a little bit. I want to go out there and take care of business. Obviously, the idea is to go out there and not give up any runs. But sometimes there are games, it's just not going to be working in your favor. I thought we showed a lot of resilience out there, fighting back. That's what good teams do."
It appeared Strasburg allowed all the runs Jacob Turner would need. The Marlins rookie lasted six innings and allowed two runs on four hits. After the first inning, Turner retired 12 out of the next 13 hitters he faced.
After Turner left, the Marlins' bullpen struggled as the Nationals came back to tie the game by the eighth inning. Carlos Zambrano couldn't record an out in the seventh, allowing RBI doubles to Espinosa and Suzuki. Ryan Webb then entered and allowed an infield single to Steve Lombardozzi. On the same play, Reyes made a throwing error that allowed Suzuki to score and make it a one-run game.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, A.J. Ramos allowed Morse's homer over the right-center-field wall to make it a new game.
The Marlins attempted to take the lead in the ninth inning with Drew Storen on the mound. With one out and a runner on first and third, Brantly hit a fly ball to center fielder Bryce Harper, who threw a perfect strike to Suzuki at the plate to nail Greg Dobbs.
But the Nationals still came up short.