Nats nip slumping Marlins for fifth straight win

Nationals 6, Marlins 4

WASHINGTON (AP) -- When the 2007 season began, many around baseball predicted the Washington Nationals would lose 105, perhaps 110 games. With their fifth straight win, 6-4 over the Florida Marlins on Wednesday night, the Nationals are assured of avoiding triple-digit losses.

Washington's 63rd win didn't cause any celebration -- even if the Nationals are securely in fourth place in the NL East -- three games ahead of Florida, which lost for the 17th time in the past 21 games.

"I'd rather have a three-game lead than no lead at all," Washington manager Manny Acta said.

Austin Kearns had three hits, including his 13th home run of the year and Wily Mo Pena singled to break a tie in the seventh.

"We knew what the expectations were. We all felt we were better than some people were saying," Kearns said. "I don't think that's any motivation.

"I don't look at it as, 'Let's stay out of last place.' We've got a month to go. Let's finish strong," he said.

With the score tied at 4-4, Matt Lindstrom (2-4), Florida's fifth pitcher of the evening, retired the first two Washington batters. Kearns singled, advance to second on a wild pitch and scored on Pena's line drive single to center.

Brian Schneider followed with a run-scoring single off Taylor Tankersley.

Each team used seven pitchers, with neither starter lasting past the third inning. Luis Ayala (1-2), the fifth Washington pitcher, got the win, pitching a perfect seventh. Jon Rauch struck out the side in the eighth and Chad Cordero pitched out of trouble in the ninth to earn his 31th save in 39 opportunities.

With all the pitching changes, it was a difficult game to play, Schneider believes.

"You had a lot of call-ups out there, a lot of young guys. Every inning, every two innings, they were switching -- just like we were." Schneider said. "It's like: 'Who's this guy?' There's another new guy. They kept coming in and out."

Acta said he's looking forward to Washington's final 22 games -- 19 of them are against NL East leaders New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta. He's hoping that his team will play even better against top-notch competition.

"It's going to get tougher, but we're up to the challenge," Acta said. "The last couple of nights we haven't played our best baseball despite winning the ballgames."

Florida starter Sergio Mitre allowed three runs and could only get two outs in a frightful first inning. Mitre loaded the bases and then gave up a run-scoring single to Ryan Church and bases-loaded walks to Schneider and Robert Fick. After Mitre threw two more balls to Washington starter Tim Redding, Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez had enough and called for Daniel Barone. Barone retired Redding on a ground out.

Gonzalez hasn't made a decision if Mitre, who hasn't won in his past seven starts, will remain in the rotation. Mitre, dazed by his performance, hasn't a clue what's gone wrong.

"If I'm still around I'll let you know. I'm trying to figure it out myself," Mitre said. "I don't know what to tell you other than I don't know."

The Marlins scored twice in the third, and Redding had to leave with an injury. After Jeremy Hermida drove in Dan Uggla with a double, Miguel Cabrera hit a high chopper that Redding tried to field. He couldn't and fell to the ground in pain while Cabrera reached first.

Redding was diagnosed with a right elbow contusion and was replaced by Jonathan Albaladejo, who made his major-league debut. He got Josh Willingham to hit into a fielder's choice, scoring Hermida.

Redding will be out seven to 10 days. The injured pitcher was frightened at first, but said he was thankful.

"If I can get back in a timeframe of 10 days, that's unbelievable," Redding said.

"Redding goes out because of an injury and Mitre goes out because of whatever reason -- just couldn't get the job done -- and then it becomes one of those games. It happens," Gonzalez said. "And both clubs had enough pitching to overcome an ugly game. It could've been ugly and it ended up being a pretty interesting game, really."

Kearns homered with one out in the fifth inning off Ross Wolf to make it 4-2.

Florida tied it in the fifth on a two-run home run by Miguel Olivo. It was his 14th and landed off the facing of the left-field mezzanine.

Game notes
Washington has won seven straight games at home against Florida. ... Ramirez was hitless -- ending his hitting streak at 12 games. ... Washington outfielder Justin Maxwell made his major-league debut, flying out as a pinch-hitter. Maxwell, Washington's second-round draft choice in 2005, was promoted from Class A Potomac on Tuesday.