One night after their most lopsided loss this season, the Washington Nationals reverted to what has elevated them to among the more promising clubs in the major leagues during the season’s opening weeks.
That formula comprises economical pitching and just enough offense to make it stand, and on Friday night in the series opener against the Miami Marlins, it came together again in a 2-0 victory before 24,640 at Nationals Park.
Starter Ross Detwiler allowed three hits and matched a career high with seven strikeouts through six innings, and three relievers combined to keep Washington’s National League East rival scoreless thereafter. Rick Ankiel’s homer plus an insurance RBI from Ian Desmond did the rest.
In recovering from an 11-4 loss to the Houston Astros on Thursday, Washington (11-4) won for the ninth time in 11 games and fourth in its last five. Some ninth-inning drama included the Marlins (7-7) putting two runners on with two outs, but closer Henry Rodriguez collected his fourth save by getting Chris Coghlan to ground to short.
“Det was superb,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. “Outstanding game. Good change-up. Good location on his fastball. Outstanding breaking ball. He was getting stronger as the game went on. That was a good win.”
The Nationals (11-4) got all the scoring they needed in the third inning courtesy of Ankiel’s solo home run off Carlos Zambrano, a shot that never was in doubt from the moment the ball left his bat. Zambrano started Ankiel with two sinkers that both went for balls before coming back with another sinker.
Ankiel promptly deposited that pitch to deep center field, well beyond the 402-foot marker on the wall. It was the first homer for Ankiel since last Sept. 11, and just the third extra-base hit for the team over the first nine games of this 11-game homestand.
“I got [a pitch] out over [the plate] and put a great swing on it,” said Ankiel, who went 3 for 3.
Detwiler (2-0, 0.56 ERA), meantime, faced two batters above the minimum over his final four innings. In his third start of the season, the Nationals’ top pick (sixth overall) in the 2007 draft used power and precision to confound Miami’s potent lineup, allowing one runner past first and only three balls to leave the infield.
In the second inning, Detwiler worked out of his one unsteady sequence of the game after Giancarlo Stanton singled to lead off and advanced to third on a one-out double by Austin Kearns, a member of the Nationals from 2006 through ’09.
Detwiler then started John Buck with a 1-2 count before the Marlins catcher lifted a slider into shallow center field, where Ankiel sprinted in to make the catch. With Ankiel’s strong throwing arm part of the equation, third base coach Joe Espada held Stanton on the bag.
The defense behind Detwiler remained on the field only briefly after that thanks to a three-pitch strikeout against Donnie Murphy. Detwiler began with a slider for a called strike, came back with a sinker that was fouled off for strike two and ended the inning on a 94-mph fastball Murphy missed swinging.
Craig Stammen entered in relief of Detwiler and worked a perfect seventh, getting two groundouts and a strikeout, before giving way to Tyler Clippard to start the eighth. Clippard got Coghlan to fly out to center but surrendered a single to pinch hitter Logan Morris, who was batting for Zambrano.
It appeared the Nationals’ dependable set-up man would get out of the inning with relative ease when he got Jose Reyes to ground to first for the second out. Emilio Bonifacio, who played 41 games for Washington in 2008, had other ideas, though, drawing a walk during a 14-pitch at-bat that included six foul balls.
Clippard needed just five pitches to Hanley Ramirez, the next hitter, to end the threat with a strikeout.
“It’s a long season, and we’re not going to go out there and throw shutouts every night,” Clippard said. “We realize that, but we’ve been doing a great job. The starters have been unbelievable, and I think everyone is kind of feeding off each other in that sense. It’s been fun to be a part of that.”