WASHINGTON -- Ian Desmond's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 10th inning helped the Nationals edge the Marlins, 3-2, at Nationals Park on Saturday afternoon.
The Nats improved their record to 12-4 and have won their fifth consecutive series to start the season
The game was tied at 2 when the Nationals took advantage of a throwing error by Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez. After Wilson Ramos singled to right-center field, Adam LaRoche followed and hit a grounder to Sanchez. Instead of getting the sure out at first, Sanchez tried to get the forceout at second base. But he threw the ball over the head of shortstop Jose Reyes, and that allowed Ramos to go to third base.
Desmond then came to the plate and swung at the first two pitches -- fastballs -- that he saw from reliever Edward Mujica, but fouled them off. Manager Davey Johnson believed that Desmond tried to hit a home run on those two pitches.
"He was trying to hit that ball 9,000 miles," Johnson said. "If he had hit them, they would have gone 9,000 miles."
But Desmond settled down, swung at a 1-2 pitch from Mujica and hit the ball to center fielder Emilio Bonifacio. The ball was deep enough to score Ramos to end the game. It was the sixth one-run victory for the Nationals this season.
"I know, early, he had a bad rap, but he is one heck of an athlete," Johnson said of Desmond. "When he first came in here, he tried to do too much. He is a tremendous athlete. I told him when he puts it all together, he could be like Barry Larkin -- steal bases, hit one, two or three in the lineup, be a run producer. He is an on-base guy. ... He stayed within himself, but he has so much ability, so much athletic energy. He is fun to watch."
A year ago at this time, Desmond was struggling at the plate, hitting .211 with a .253 on-base percentage. There were people who questioned whether or not he should be the everyday shortstop. There were critics who felt Danny Espinosa should be playing the position.
Now, Desmond is playing like he is the MVP of the Nationals.
"Last year, it was a huge struggle," Desmond said. "I had about [four] errors, I was hitting about .200 and we weren't really winning. But this year, it's a new year and a fresh start, which is nice. Obviously, this is the best start I've had in the big leagues and I'm feeling good about it."
Right-hander Stephen Strasburg had another quality performance on the mound, but received his second no-decision of the season.
Strasburg pitched six shutout innings, allowed four hits, struck out six batters and walked one. He left after throwing 94 pitches and lowered his ERA to 1.08.
"He was great," Johnson said. "It was too early to let him hit and go one more inning. That one more inning could be invaluable later in the year. I wasn't even tempted today to let him go further, even though he had a rough time in the sixth. He was throwing great."
Strasburg wasn't in any serious trouble. Jose Reyes doubled with less than two outs in both the fourth and sixth innings, but was left stranded.
"We're facing a pretty good pitching staff. You cannot deny that," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We've got to take advantage of [scoring] opportunities. With the pitching we're facing, we can't take anything for granted."
Asked why he continues to be consistent on the mound, Strasburg said, "I go out there and try to keep things simple, don't try to do too much and try to do my job."
The game was scoreless until the sixth inning, when Desmond swung at a 2-0 pitch from right-hander Anibal Sanchez and hit a mammoth home run over the left-field wall for his second of the season.
An inning later, Sanchez surrendered another home run, this one off the bat of Jayson Werth, his first of the season.
But the Nationals couldn't hold the lead. Brad Lidge entered the game in the ninth inning and was ineffective, allowing a walk to Hanley Ramirez and a game-tying homer to Logan Morrison. Johnson wasn't happy about Ramirez getting the walk because he was behind in the count, 0-2.
It was Lidge's second blown save of the season, but he will continue to split the closer's role with Henry Rodriguez.
"I still like Brad Lidge," Johnson said. "I didn't much mind the home run, but getting ahead of Ramirez and walking him was the mistake of the inning. You just can't do that. Not in a close ballgame."
But the Nationals overcame Lidge's mistakes and secured the series win.
"That's the big thing -- is finding a way [to win]," Strasburg said. "We found a way to win it in the 10th."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.