- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2014

MIAMI — A well-rested Adam LaRoche returned to the lineup Friday night after two days off. The first followed Washington’s division-clinching win in Atlanta on Wednesday. The second came at his request, to give his ailing yet improving back another day to heal.

Rest is a luxury afforded to the Nationals now that they have clinched the National League East. It has allowed them to get almost completely healthy just in time for October, healthy throughout the starting lineup and starting rotation for the first time all season. And in LaRoche’s case, it paid dividends Friday.

The veteran first baseman clobbered a two-run home run five rows into the second deck in right field in the first inning, and Doug Fister turned in another strong outing to lift the Nationals to a 3-2 win over the Marlins.

SEE ALSO: Ryan Zimmerman travels to Miami to rejoin Nationals, could start Saturday

LaRoche has now hit six home runs and driven in 18 runs in just 15 games this month. With Friday’s shot, he eclipsed 25 home runs for the sixth time in his career.

“He’s fresh when he gets a couple of days,” manager Matt Williams said. “Twenty-five homers is a lot, and he missed some time, so it’s a good milestone for him.”

Ryan Zimmerman watched the homer from the end of the bench in the visitors’ dugout after driving from the team’s facility in Viera, Florida, earlier in the evening. His rehabilitation stint in the team’s instructional league ended Friday without complications, and he is expected to be activated and potentially start Saturday night. He is the final piece on an almost entirely healthy roster.

“It’s unbelievable,” closer Drew Storen said of the team’s improving health. “I think that’s a good feeling that we’ve had throughout the year. We’ve had our fair share of injuries, but we’ve also done a great job of keeping the ship afloat every time, and we really learned something about ourselves. When you get somebody like Zim coming off the DL, it’s a really nice gift to have.”

Zimmerman will further bolster a lineup that has been clicking from top to bottom over the past week or so. On Friday, six of Washington’s eight starting position players collected a hit and all of them except Bryce Harper, who nearly hit the roof with a towering fly ball in the first, reached base.

Ian Desmond and Denard Span each took advantage of the cavernous outfield at Marlins Park, recording triples in the first and third innings, respectively. LaRoche accounted for the Nationals’ first two runs in the opening frame, then Span knocked in Wilson Ramos in the fourth.

Those three runs proved to be enough of a cushion for Fister, who picked up his third consecutive win and kept his earned-run average at a rotation-best 2.55 despite not having his usual command.

“I definitely wasn’t as sharp as I should’ve been,” Fister said. “There were some hard-hit balls that our guys made great plays on, and that’s an attribute to our defense.

Fister allowed only two earned runs on five hits over 6 2/3 innings. He bounced back from consecutive walks — a rare occurrence for someone who had issued just 24 of them all season — to retire 11 of the final 14 batters he faced.

Matt Thornton finished the seventh inning, much to Fister’s chagrin, and Tyler Clippard pitched a spotless eighth. Drew Storen then entered the game in the ninth and closed it out, retiring the Marlins in order to record his eighth save of the season.

Clippard and Storen needed only 11 pitches to record six outs.

“I felt like I didn’t do much,” Clippard said. “They just came up there swinging. I threw some pitches that were right on the edges and tough to square up, and they got themselves out.”

The Nationals left seven runners on base and only recorded one hit after the fourth inning. Their most consistent starter, Fister, didn’t have his best stuff. But they won anyways, inching one step closer to the best record in the National League with a healthy roster now intact.

“It’s worked for us,” Fister said. “We grind out the one-run ball games and make them work.”

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