JUPITER — Bringing their most potent weapons to Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday, the Washington Nationals took down the Marlins 7-5.
Wade LeBlanc finally has an ERA this spring thanks to the likes of Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and reigning National League Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper.
For arguably his biggest test of the spring against the stacked Nationals’ lineup, the only left-handed candidate for a spot in the Marlins rotation pitched five innings and allowed a preseason high six earned runs on seven hits. He struck out four in the loss.
“That’s who I’m going to be facing during the season,” LeBlanc said. “I’m glad they brought those guys over so I can see what I need to work on and see what works and then just try to improve on the rest of the stuff.”
All of LeBlanc’s mistakes were uncharacteristic, and a relentless Nationals offense didn’t leave an inch of room for error. After Washington loaded the bases in the third, Harper scored two runners on a double.
LeBlanc issued back-to-back walks in the fifth inning after a three-up, three-down fourth, and Harper responded with another two-run double.
“When good hitters like that are ahead in the count, they can pretty much make you pay whatever they want,” LeBlanc said.
Despite his poor outing, there’s a case for LeBlanc to fall nicely into place in the Marlins rotation to open the season.
When he was called up from Triple A New Orleans in 2012, he carried zeros through his first seven appearances out of the bullpen, and later transitioned his work into nine starts for the club. Through 68 2/3 innings, he finished with a 3.67 ERA in Miami, the lowest of his five seasons in the majors.
“I like having a lefty in there. I think he fits in that rotation and gives you a different look,” manager Mike Redmond said. “Especially if you bring him in after a power guy like [ Nathan] Eovaldi. I like that.”
The Marlins were held to just one hit by right-hander Chris Young until the sixth inning. A pitching change allowed Miami to rally for four runs off reliever Zach Duke.
Rob Brantly drove in two runs with two outs. He was 2 for 3 and continued with his solid offensive work for Miami, bringing his average to .310 through 15 games. Giancarlo Stanton was 1 for 3 with a RBI and a strikeout.
Justin Ruggiano was scheduled to play seven innings in a minor-league game Wednesday as he slowly makes his return to everyday play.
“He needs to play. He’s a little further behind than everyone else because of the slow start with his back,” Redmond said.
Ruggiano, the leading candidate for the center-field role, was sidelined with a lower-back strain for the better part of the spring. He’s hitting .143 through six games.
Casey Kotchman and Austin Kearns also were scheduled to hit in a minor-league game Wednesday
• Donovan Solano came to work Wednesday with stiffness in his back and was pulled from the lineup. Chris Valaika took over second base duties against the Nationals.
• The elusive fourth spot in the lineup remains a vacancy as Redmond continues to stack his lineup according to who needs the work, prioritized by those who have returned from injury.
It’s no secret that the Marlins opening day lineup won’t be a power-hitting force to be reckoned with; the first-year manager has to play around with a lot of situations in his head.
More than anything, his best ideas are based around who is going to give the team a good at bat; someone who can hit in an RBI situation and put the ball in play.
“If they’re going to walk Stanton with a guy on second, we want somebody that can come up and keep the line moving and pick up the hit,” Redmond said. “Would be love a guy to hit a home run? Absolutely, but at the same time too, I’d take a double in the gap.”
Redmond has expressed throughout the last week that he’s not afraid to use the best person against a particular pitcher, or in a particular situation at hand, but he’s leaning in the direction of having a veteran take the workload behind Stanton. Kotchman or Placido Polanco could fit the mold.
“Polanco is a guy who gives you a great at bat but can hit behind a runner [and] drives runs in,” he said. “Kotchman too. He’s a guy who stays within himself. He’s not a home run hitter, but he can slap the ball the other way, he can hit the ball up the middle, he pulls balls when he needs to.”
Kotchman leads the team (min. 30 AB) with a .455 average in the spring.
An established presence, even if it’s a small one, is something Redmond’s young team will rely on once the regular season is underway on the field and in the clubhouse.
“They’re going to be the catalyst for the team,” the manager said of his veterans.
• The Marlins released Chone Figgins. Mitch Talbot, Doug Mathis, J.T. Realmuto and reassigned Ed Lucas to minor-league camp.
• Thursday: Off.
• Friday: Marlins RHP Henderson Alvarez (1-0, 4.70 ERA) vs. Mets LHP Jon Niese, 1:05 p.m. Jupiter.