- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2009

MIAMI | The baseball season is a 162-game grind, both physically and mentally, and it’s all the tougher to endure when inclement weather is thrown into the mix.

So games like Sunday’s 7-2 rain-shortened victory by the Washington Nationals against the Florida Marlins, while insignificant in the grand scheme of things, are nonetheless impressive because of the obstacles it included.

As if beating a Marlins club that dominated the season series between these two division rivals wasn’t difficult enough, the Nationals had to do it while alternately waiting out and then playing through driving rain.

With rain pouring down in the bottom of the ninth, crew chief Tim Welke finally deemed this one over nearly six hours after Chris Volstad threw the first pitch in front of an announced crowd of 15,065. Only a smattering of those fans was still around by the time it ended.

“We know we’re not going anywhere in the standings,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “But the guys are playing with intensity. They’re playing hard. And I appreciate that.”

Perhaps the happiest man in the stadium was John Lannan, who both earned the win and got to watch the last four innings (and two rain delays) from the comforts of the visiting clubhouse.

Lannan (9-11) hadn’t won a game since Aug. 5, and his six most recent starts had been anything but characteristic for the usually reliable lefty: 0-3 with a 7.67 ERA and seven homers surrendered in 31 2/3 innings. Though his arm strength hasn’t diminished at all, perhaps this stretch has revealed the mental strain a long season can have on a young pitcher.

As the cornerstone of Washington’s rotation, Lannan knows he’s being counted on to finish the year strong, so Sunday’s five-inning, one-run outing was a step in the right direction. He wasn’t in top form and enjoyed only one clean inning, but he was effective against a Marlins lineup that has tortured the Nationals all season.

“I’ve been throwing the ball well. I’ve just been having that blow-up inning every once in a while,” he said. “But I was pretty happy with today. I wish the rain didn’t come, but I’m glad we got the win.”

In a rare instance of run support, Lannan actually got some help from his teammates, who jumped out to an early lead and didn’t let up. Taking advantage of Volstad’s wildness, Washington scored three runs in the first, with Elijah Dukes driving two of them home on a bloop single.

Pete Orr, getting a rare start at third base, added to the barrage with a two-run homer in the third - his first big league bomb since June 7, 2006, when he still played for the Atlanta Braves and connected off Washington’s Ramon Ortiz - and then added a leadoff double in the fifth that led to another run.

Up 7-1, the Nationals needed only to outlast the elements the rest of the afternoon to seal a much-needed victory.

“Before the first rain delay, it was fine,” Orr said. “But after we came back from the rain delay, we just got drenched. It was tough. But that’s the game. No excuses. I just wish we got the full nine innings in.”

Notes - Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham were out of the lineup Sunday as Riggleman sought to give the slumping sluggers a brief mental reprieve. Zimmerman has only two hits in his last 18 at-bats, a stretch that includes six strikeouts and three double plays. Willingham’s downslide has been longer; he’s batting .159 over his past 19 games.

“Ryan’s not at the top of his game right now,” Riggleman said. “It’s a little bit of a struggle for him the last couple of days, and Willingham the same way. … Sometimes just a day to clear your head is all you need to get it going again.” …

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