Castillo sparks Marlins to victory

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As good as Florida's pitching has been, a
victory in a game started by Ismael Valdez felt like a bonus.

Valdez combined with two relievers on a five-hitter for his
first win in more than a month, and Luis Castillo went 3-for-4 with
a homer and two RBI in a rare chance to lead off, lifting the
Marlins past the Washington Nationals 4-2 Tuesday night.

"No question, it pumps us up. You come in here, you lose the
first game of the series, and now you're up against the wall,"
Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "It's nice to come out of this
one and have one of your top pitchers going the next one, then
another top pitcher the next one."

That would be Dontrelle Willis, who will try to become the
franchise's first 20-game winner Wednesday, followed by 2003 World
Series MVP Josh Beckett on Thursday.

The Nationals, meanwhile, have lost two starters to injuries, so
on Tuesday they sent Darrell Rasner to the mound in his major
league debut. He didn't make it out of the third inning, giving up
three runs on four hits and taking the loss.

Five relievers followed, but none went longer than two innings,
so the bullpen should be ready to work Wednesday if another
Nationals spot starter -- lefty John Halama -- doesn't go deep.

"We'll go through the whole staff again tomorrow," Nationals
manager Frank Robinson said. "I'm not thinking long term, right
now. I'm thinking about trying to win that one tomorrow. It's going
to be a handful in itself."

Not an ideal situation for a club trying to stay in a playoff

With Houston's 2-1 victory at Philadelphia, Florida moved past
the Phillies and into second place in the NL wild-card standings,
one game behind the Astros. The Nationals dropped to 2 games off
the pace.

Florida and Washington count on their pitching -- both rank in
the NL's top six in team ERA. But Valdez (2-1) missed much of the
season with a broken right leg, came in with a 4.36 ERA, and his
only previous victory of 2005 came Aug. 1.

"That's the guy we have to beat," outfielder Marlon Byrd said.
"We expected to win tonight. It's going to be tough tomorrow and
the day after."

Valdez represents the latest in a series of unheralded starters
who have silenced Washington, which had won three straight games.

He limited the Nationals to three hits in five innings, the only
damage coming on Brad Wilkerson's 11th homer, a two-run shot in the

That cut Florida's lead to 3-2, but Washington only got one more
runner as far as second base. Brian Moehler threw three innings of
one-hit ball, and Todd Jones got three outs in the ninth for his
35th save -- and 25th in a row.

"I just keep my mouth shut and keep going," Jones said,
"because I don't want this to end."

Given his recent form, it wasn't all that surprising Washington
couldn't produce a comeback in front of an announced crowd of
24,936, the second-lowest of the club's first season in D.C.

And, frankly, it shouldn't have been surprising that Rasner had
trouble, straight from Double-A Harrisburg. He had to share a
locker with fellow call-up Travis Hughes in the cramped home

After getting through two innings without allowing a hit,
Rasner's curveball deserted him. Damion Easley doubled in the
third, and scored on a first-pitch single up the middle by
Castillo, leading off the order for just the ninth time this
season. Jeremy Hermida followed with a double to right, making it
2-0. When Juan Encarnacion smacked an RBI double, that was it for
Rasner -- 55 pitches over 2 2-3 innings.

"My stuff wasn't as sharp as it was the first two innings. Just
a struggle that last inning," Rasner said. "I'm excited to get
this opportunity, and I wish it could have been a little better for
this ballclub."

In the fifth, Castillo greeted Mike Stanton by hitting the lefty
reliever's first pitch for his fourth homer of the year.

"He put the ball too high," Castillo said.

Game notes
Florida SS Alex Gonzalez said an MRI exam on his right
elbow revealed a bone bruise. He'll rest it, then start throwing
next week, he said. ... 3B Vinny Castilla's fielding miscue in the
second ended Washington's streak of errorless games at nine, one
short of the franchise record. 2B Jamey Carroll made an error in
the eighth. ... Washington's Brian Schneider caught Castillo and
Juan Pierre on steal attempts -- the first catcher to throw out both
in the same game since Washington's Gary Bennett did it on April
18. Schneider has caught 28 of 71 would-be basestealers, a
majors-high 39 percent.