Washington welcomes Miami to Nationals Park for a four-game series beginning Thursday night.
The Nationals have lost five straight games and 17 of 22. At 42-43, the Nationals are under .500 this far into the season for the first time since they were 60-61 on Aug. 21, 2015.
Wednesday's traditional 11:05 a.m. July 4 contest was a 3-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Washington's eighth shutout since June 1 -- the Nationals were blanked just seven times all of last season -- resulted in a players-only meeting after the game.
"We've never been in this position before, and I think it's an exciting time for us," Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper told the Washington Post. "In years past, we've won the division by a lot of games and we're able to be behind right now. I'm excited to get out there and test it."
According to press reports, staff ace Max Scherzer instigated the meeting and was the most vocal speaker during it.
"I think anytime Max holds the meeting or holds court, there's going to be some yelling," outfielder Adam Eaton told MASN.com. "In baseball, you don't have that type of intensity all the time, so it's a little different. I think guys gravitate toward that. I think everybody has a kind of intensity bone in their body, and sometimes things need to be said in that fashion."
Washington starter Erick Fedde left in the second inning with a shoulder injury, forcing the Nationals' already overworked bullpen to cover seven-plus innings. An MRI exam on Fedde was negative.
The Nationals are seven games behind first-place Atlanta and just 7 1/2 ahead of fourth-place Miami. After a stretch of games against the Philadelphia Phillies and Red Sox, the Nationals play 21 of their next 27 games against teams with a losing record.
Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (2-1, 2.63 ERA) opposes Miami right-hander Pablo Lopez (1-0, 3.00) on Thursday night
Hellickson lasted 4 2/3 innings, giving up three earned runs on seven hits, in his return from the disabled list last Saturday night. He had been sidelined since June 4 with a right hamstring strain.
Lopez was a winner in his major league debut, allowing two runs on six hits over six innings against the New York Mets on Saturday. The 22-year-old struck out five and walked one.
"I was really impressed with his composure," Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto told the Miami Herald. "He came in just attacking guys with his stuff. It didn't seem like he was scared of anybody. Pounding the zone. Worked a quick pace, and pitched with great stuff. It was exciting to watch."
Miami (36-52) won the rubber game of a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, hours after losing a 16-inning marathon that ended at 12:41 a.m. Jose Urena tossed five scoreless innings and shortstop JT Riddle drove in two of Miami's runs and scored the other in a 3-0 win.
Drew Rucinski got the win and Brad Ziegler closed it out for his 10th save.
"It was one of those days, walking into it, that your bullpen's pretty much shot," Marlins manager Don Mattingly told the Miami Herald. "You're hoping for a good outing from Jose and it really couldn't have gone any better as far as who we had available."