WASHINGTON -- For 6 2/3 innings, the Nationals fought to avoid an undesirable first in team history: being no-hit.
The Nats were dominated by Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara on Monday evening in their 3-0 loss at Nationals Park. The 26-year-old right-hander kept his foot on the gas the whole night, throwing 90-plus mph on all but five of his 96 pitches in the NL East matchup. Alcantara was throwing so hard, in fact, that the Nationals faced 15 pitches that clocked in at more than 99 mph.
“When you see a guy like that and he’s throwing the baseball the way he threw it tonight, you’re up for a big task,” said manager Dave Martinez.
It wasn't until Josh Bell belted a deep single off the right-field wall with two outs in the seventh that they broke up the no-hitter. The first baseman has hit safely in 18 of his last 21 games.
“I think it’s just putting a good swing on a good pitch,” Bell said. “I felt pretty decent in my at-bat before and I chased, so I was just trying to go up there that at-bat and make sure something was in the zone. It was the first slider that I saw from him in a really long time -- he’s been primarily two-seam and changeups to me for a while now. I think he was just trying to sneak something in there, and I was able to get underneath it and drive it.”
Up until that point, the Nationals had only two runners on base. In the sixth inning, Keibert Ruiz reached first on a fielding error by second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr., and Andrew Stevenson got on base when he grounded into a forceout two batters later.
“Obviously after the fourth or fifth inning, everyone knows,” Bell said. “It’s just trying to capitalize on mistakes. I felt like he did a good job that game of keeping people off the barrel, aside from [Juan] Soto up to that point. I was just happy to get the job done there.”
In spite of Alcantara’s dazzling performance, the Nationals were within striking distance the entire night. Starter Paolo Espino limited the Marlins to just one run over a career-high six innings. The Nats trailed, 1-0, at the time of Bell’s hit and hoped to start a late-game rally, but pinch-hitter Ryan Zimmerman was the only other player to get on base, with a single in the ninth.
The Nationals were shut out for the ninth time this season, but just the first time since June 11. The shutout came after they scored 16 runs over a three-game series against the Pirates this past weekend. After the shutout, Bell recounted a team goal set earlier this season.
“[Hitting coach Kevin Long] made a bet very early in the year that we wouldn’t get shut out two times in a row all season,” Bell said. “I knew that we traded guys, but that still holds true. I feel like one through nine, we know that we can put runs on the board, we can put together great at-bats and we can have guys in scoring position.
“Hopefully, that changes tomorrow.”