WASHINGTON -- Throughout Spring Training, Nationals manager Manny Acta stressed the importance of defense and fundamentals. Lack of those two areas was the reason the Nationals were pounded by the Marlins, 9-3, in front of 20,894 fans on Tuesday night.
The bad defense was led by shortstop Josh Wilson, who replaced the injured Cristian Guzman. Wilson was charged with an error and could have been charged with two others.
It all started in the first inning with Washington right-hander Shawn Hill on the mound. With Marlins leadoff hitter Hanley Ramirez on first, Dan Uggla hit ground ball to the left of Wilson, who dove for the ball, caught it and tried to flip it to second baseman Felipe Lopez with his glove hand. The ball, however, went past Lopez and that put runners on first and second. Wilson was not charged with an error.
"I was trying to flip the ball to Felipe to get a double play. I was trying to make a play. That's all," Wilson said.
After Miguel Cabrera walked to load the bases, Mike Jacobs hit a routine grounder to first baseman Dmitri Young, who booted the ball and that allowed two runs to score. After the inning ended, Young apologized to Hill for the miscue.
"[Errors are] going to happen. It's no big deal," Hill said. "I always tell the fielders behind me, 'I get a lot of ground balls,' so it gives the team a chance to make good plays and opportunities for errors. When you do make an error, I try to get out of the jam."
The lack of defense continued in the next inning. With two outs, Cabrera hit a liner right at Wilson, but it went under his glove for a base hit.
"I don't know. That one seemed to run right past my glove," Wilson said. "I thought it was going to hop right up to me. I don't know what happened. I honestly don't. I thought I was in the position to field it and it end up kind of being out of reach when I thought I was position to make the play. That will be something I will be able to fix, just being more prepared and ready to make that play."
Wilson would be charged with an error in the next inning, but it didn't do any damage. During his first exhibition game of 2007, Wilson was tentative with the glove and had limited range to his left. At the time, Acta felt that Wilson was trying too hard to make the team. Wilson got over his problems and had an excellent Spring Training.
Asked if he was nervous during his first start of the season, Wilson said, "There were no nerves. I've been doing this, not as much as some guys, but it's baseball. I don't get nervous out there. Sometimes things don't go the way you want them. If I go back in there tomorrow, I'm going to play hard again."
To make matters worse, Wilson has a sore left elbow after being hit by a Kevin Gregg pitch in the seventh inning. Athletic trainer Lee Kuntz treated the elbow for an hour before Wilson came out to talk to the media.
"It's OK. It's swollen a little bit. It should be all right. I hope to be playing tomorrow. I hope that I'll be back in there tomorrow and turn it around," Wilson said.
Although Hill was charged with four earned runs in five innings, Acta thought the right-hander did a good job on the mound. Hill prevented the Marlins from scoring in his last three innings on the mound.
"Hill could have gotten out of that first inning without any damage, but that's part of the game. Guys don't want to make errors on purpose," Acta said. "He has good stuff. I've really liked what I've seen from this guy. But we have top play defense behind him, too."
Reliever Ray King was on the mound in the sixth inning, and the Nationals couldn't make a fundamental play. With the bases loaded and one out, Marlins pitcher Scott Olsen hit a perfect double-play ground ball to Young, who was able to get the forceout at second, but King did not cover first base, which allowed Cabrera to score.
"I made a mental mistake. In that situation, I should have been over there. There is no excuse for it. You have to make the adjustments," King said.
In the seventh inning, Cabrera doubled over the head of center fielder Ryan Church. After he retrieved the ball, Church threw to second base. But there was no one covering the bag. Eventually, Young ran over to cover the bag.
In the ninth inning, with closer Chad Cordero on the mound, Jacobs hit a line drive right at Church, but Church misjudged the ball and it went over his head for a double, which allowed two runs to score.
"We just have to play better defense. All of us know that we played worse defense than those two errors that showed up on the board," Acta said. "We just have to keep on working. We'll get better at it."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.