Nationals finally get some relief

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PHILADELPHIA | The amount of tinkering the Washington Nationals have had to do to get to this point - to earn a road victory that required nothing more than a simple, clean effort - is almost unfathomable.

Their go-ahead RBI came from an outfielder who played himself out of a job in spring training and got the center fielder’s job by default a week into the season. The insurance runs came from a second baseman who had never been an everyday starter before this season, played an entire winter to get himself ready and started the year on the disabled list.

And with a three-run lead against the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies going into the eighth inning, the Nationals unveiled Bullpen 3.0, their plan to throw the two relievers they signed to minor league deals in spring training - Kip Wells and Julian Tavarez - in whichever order made the most sense.

Somehow, at the end of a road trip pockmarked with games the Nationals could have won but didn’t, they delivered one that they should have won - and did.

Washington got a solid start from Scott Olsen, a few timely hits from the likes of Elijah Dukes and Anderson Hernandez and a reasonably smooth finish from Wells and Tavarez, and that was it. No collapses, no roster reconfigurations, just a 4-1 win over the Phillies to end the six-game road trip to New York and Philadelphia with a 2-4 record and improve the Nationals’ record to 5-15.

“It wasn’t a blowout ballgame. We need to start winning these types of ballgames,” manager Manny Acta said. “We can’t expect to win 8-1 or 12-2.”

Aside from the seven innings he threw in a 9-6 loss to the Marlins on April 18, Olsen hasn’t enjoyed a better start than Wednesday night this year. He gave up one run in 5 2/3 innings, throwing 67 of his 93 pitches for strikes. Other than the inside fastball he left up on Shane Victorino’s first-inning homer, Olsen didn’t make many mistakes.

His velocity was a touch better than it has been most of the year - Olsen’s fastball hit 90 mph, making it more effective in setting up a slider that he used to good effect in striking out six Phillies players.

“We went to my slider a lot,” Olsen said. “We were able to consistently throw it near the strike zone and make them chase. I think it kind of put them on the defensive a little bit.”

He also benefited from a Nationals offense that took advantage of a pitcher it had worn down. Washington worked Philadelphia starter Brett Myers for 109 pitches in six innings.

The Nationals grabbed the lead in the sixth with the kind of timely hitting they simply haven’t had this year. Ryan Zimmerman led off with a double, stretching his hitting streak to a major league-leading 18 games and breaking his own record for the longest streak since the team moved to the District.

Dukes drove him in with a single two batters later, and Josh Willingham followed with a single. With two outs, Hernandez produced the Nationals’ third run on a single to center.

It wasn’t a situation in which the Nationals have seen much success this year - they entered the game hitting just .218 with two outs - but the second baseman came through in the sixth and added another run in the eighth.

There, after the Phillies intentionally walked Jesus Flores, Hernandez punched a two-out double down the right-field line to score Willie Harris and stretch the Nationals’ lead to three. It was Hernandez’s eighth hit in his last three games and his third of the night.

“He looked at me and kind of grinned when they walked Flores,” Acta said. “He was very confident he was going to do some damage.”

That left the lead in the hands of the Nationals’ latest - and most desperate - plan to protect late-inning leads: the combination of Wells and Tavarez.

After Wells got out of the eighth inning by forcing pinch hitter Matt Stairs to ground out with two on, it was on to Tavarez, who last saved a game May 28, 2006, as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

He gave up a two-out single to Jimmy Rollins but ended the game with a strikeout of Victorino. Tavarez pumped his fist, thumped his chest and hugged Flores.

“The guys see us different because Kip Wells and myself have been around,” Tavarez said. “Nothing against the other guys in the ‘pen, but the guys that have been around, they see us different.”

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