WASHINGTON -- After a 5-2 loss to a dominant Josh Johnson and the Marlins on Friday night, Adam LaRoche effectively summed up Washington's long day at Nationals Park.
"The first part was pretty good," LaRoche said. "The second part, no good."
Indeed, the Nationals looked excellent in beating the Marlins, 7-4, in the opener of Friday's doubleheader. But they often looked helpless offensively as Johnson pitched a gem for 8 2/3 innings in the nightcap, wasting a 10-strikeout performance by Gio Gonzalez.
"It's a wash. You look at where you move in the standings, and you win one, you lose one," LaRoche added. "Could've been better, but we're all still alive after that."
Gonzalez rolled through the first five innings, facing just one more than the minimum and quickly tearing through Miami's lineup. At the time, it seemed as if the one-run lead given to him in the first inning might hold up. But his duel with Johnson came to an abrupt end in the sixth inning, when the Marlins used five singles to score three runs.
Gonzalez was almost untouchable early on, and he was nearly as good after the sixth, pitching into the eighth inning for the first time this season and walking nobody in the process. He gave up a single to Jose Reyes in the first inning but no more hits until the fifth, and that one was erased by a double play one batter later.
After recording one out in the sixth, however, Gonzalez saw his night slowly unravel despite his sharp stuff. He said nothing changed that inning, but all of a sudden, the Marlins started lacing base hits to right field.
Johnson singled to right, then Donovan Solano did the same with two outs. Reyes loaded the bases with yet another single to Bryce Harper in right field, and Carlos Lee scored two with a single to center. Greg Dobbs knocked a base hit to left field to score Reyes and put Gonzalez behind by two.
"I just kept going after them. Didn't want to let up," Gonzalez said. "They just found some holes. That's all that happened."
That was all Johnson needed. As good as Gonzalez was, Johnson was even better. The Nationals scored one against him right away in the first, when Steve Lombardozzi hit one to the outfield and sprinted around to third base for a leadoff triple. He scored two batters later on Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly. After Lombardozzi's triple, Johnson retired 12 in a row and 19 of the next 21 batters he faced. He went on to allow only five hits, three more than he hit himself.
"Whenever your rhythm and tempo are there, the ball is going to go where you want it to a majority of the time," Johnson said. "My slider was down, it had good action to it. My curveball was very good. That's huge, especially against those lefties."
The Marlins tacked on another run in the eighth, when Reyes doubled and sped home all the way from second base on Lee's groundout to shortstop Danny Espinosa. Reyes was running on the pitch and was heading home the whole time, but Espinosa took his time with the throw to LaRoche, making the first baseman's throw home too little, too late. Gonzalez appeared to be flustered on the mound afterward, but he said the emotion was aimed at himself.
"Just felt like I could've made a better pitch, probably could've get him to pop up or something like that," Gonzalez said. "That's what a fast runner does: be on his toes, and [Reyes] made a positive out of it."
The Nationals, meanwhile, couldn't make a positive out of Friday's wash. With the split and Atlanta's win over Houston, Washington actually lost a half-game in the National League East standings, bringing the Nats' lead to two games.
After putting up a 6-1 record against sub-.500 teams on the road, the Nationals have so far missed an opportunity to repeat that success at home. They've played five games against clubs with losing records, dropping two of three to the Phillies and breaking even Friday.
With two more to play against the Marlins and a four-game series against the Astros on the horizon, some might view this as the Nationals' best chance to run up their lead in the NL East. But as Friday's loss proved, all it takes is one lights-out pitcher to ruin a good opportunity.
"It's hard to say that against big league teams. Obviously their records aren't as good as ours, but these teams have talented guys on them," Zimmerman said. "You have a guy like they threw tonight, it doesn't matter if they're 20 or 30 games under .500. You've got to beat that guy that day.
"No team's going to roll over and give anyone any easy wins, so it's going to be up to us to continue to play good baseball and just treat every team the same way."