Rookie manager Dave Martinez took the ball from Gio Gonzalez, then patted his starting pitcher on the backside during the fifth inning of his meltdown appearance against the lowly Marlins.
It was surely one of the low points in what has turned into a disastrous season for Gonzalez, who gave up eight runs and 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings as the Nationals lost 12-1 to the last-place Marlins.
Miami (50-76) had 17 hits while the Nationals (62-63) could manage just two as the Fish took two of three games in the series. The Nationals’ other 11-run loss this year came with Gonzalez on the mound 11-0 at Tampa Bay in June.
Gonzalez entered Sunday with a career 10-3 record and a 1.89 ERA against the Marlins, his hometown team. The veteran lefty had been even better at Nationals Park against the Fish, with a mark of 6-1, 1.27 before Sunday.
But it was all for naught as the Nationals fell for the fourth time in their last seven games to the Marlins, who had lost 14 straight to the Nationals through July 7. Washington is 9-10 this month and just 29-40 since the end of May, its playoff hopes wilting like flowers in a dessert.
Gonzalez (7-10) has won just one game at Nationals Park since May 4 that came in his previous start, Aug. 9 against the Braves. His ERA rose from 4.12 to 4.51 on Sunday before a discouraged crowd of 31,435, perhaps sensing the two-time defending National League East champs are running out of time.
The third-place Nationals entered Sunday seven games back of the first-place Atlanta Braves and 6.5 games behind the second-place Phillies.
The Marlins scored five runs in the fifth against Gonzalez, who gave up a sacrifice fly to JT Riddle, a two-run double to Rafael Ortega and a two-run single to J.T. Realmuto.
The Nationals’ Adam Eaton had an RBI double in the third, trimming the lead to 3-1. But Eaton was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a triple killing another chance for a run.
The Marlins had scored three runs in the third against Gonzalez.
Starling Castro (five hits) had a two-out RBI bloop single that fell in front of center fielder Bryce Harper to make it 1-0. The next batter, rookie Austin Dean, hit the ball over the head of Harper for a two-run double and a 3-0 lead.
After Gonzalez departed, the Marlins made it 10-1 in the sixth as Riddle hit a two-run homer off Nationals reliever Tommy Milone.
Milone was tagged for another homer in the seventh, as Realmuto blasted one to left into the Marlins bullpen for an 11-1 lead. Miami hit its third homer off Milone in the eighth, the first in the career of Isaac Galloway.
Marlins starter Jose Urena (3-3), who entered the game with a 4.79 ERA, gave up just one run and two hits.
He is appealing his six-game suspension after he hit the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. with a pitch last week and that allowed the young right-hander to face the Nationals.
With the game out of hand, the Nationals took third baseman Anthony Rendon and Harper out of the game near the end.
In the first game of the series Friday night, Max Scherzer threw six scoreless innings while Bryce Harper had three hits and drove in two in an 8-2 victory. Washington missed a golden chance to gain ground on the Braves and Phillies, who both lost Saturday. The Nationals lost Saturday night in 10 innings to the Marlins, 7-5.
The Nationals are expected to add Stephen Strasburg to their rotation this week but it may be too late at this rate.
Strasburg, who has been on the disabled list since July 25, is slated to start at home on Wednesday against the Philadelphia Phillies, Martinez said Sunday.
Strasburg, bothered by neck problems, threw a bullpen session Saturday at Nationals Park and came away feeling good, Martinez said.
The other probable starters for the Nationals in the key series against the Phillies is right-hander Tanner Roark (8-12, 4.13) on Tuesday and Scherzer (16-5, 2.11) on Thursday afternoon. The Nationals are off Monday.
“We set our rotation this morning. He is feeling good. He will pitch Game 2,” Martinez said of Strasburg. “He got himself ready to pitch for us ... against a team we are trying to catch.”