WASHINGTON -- Ricky Nolasco's mediocre summer clouded his strong start to the season, but if his last two outings against baseball's best team are any indication, the right-hander is set to end his year on a strong note.
Nolasco notched his second shutout against the Nationals in two weeks, allowing just four hits in an 8-0 win Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park. The victory clinched the three-game set for Miami, which will end the season 9-9 against Washington.
After walking Bryce Harper in the second at-bat of the game, Nolasco worked a no-hitter into the fifth inning before Michael Morse knocked a one-out single. The Nationals' second hit didn't come until the bottom of the eighth, when Chad Tracy lofted a high fly ball to right field that Giancarlo Stanton lost in the sun for a double. Nolasco surrendered two more hits in the ninth, but the Nationals were unable to send anyone across.
All together, Nolasco completed his third straight quality start in throwing 121 pitches over his nine innings with six strikeouts and one walk. Nolasco also tossed a shutout in a 9-0 win against Washington on Aug. 28.
"I felt pretty good, I'm not going to lie," Nolasco said. "Obviously with [the hit to] Morse, I made the pitch I wanted to, the first pitch. I kind of tried to do a little too much the second time, and a good hitter like that likes to get extended. But [the no-hitter's] not the focus of the game; those are the types of things that if it happens, it happens."
While it was the Nationals who entered the series hot at the plate, Miami finished the series with 23 runs scored to Washington's 14.
"Our offense has been great the last three days, there's no doubt about it," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "The last two days here, I think the biggest concern, the biggest issue, was the bullpen. The last two games, we brought the bullpen in, it seemed like everybody knew what's coming."
After scoring three runs in the second inning, the Marlins quickly realized they'd have no use for their bullpen on Sunday. Following two-out singles by Greg Dobbs, Donovan Solano and Rob Brantly plated one run, Nolasco helped his own cause with a two-run double to center, but was stranded at second one batter later.
"I hit it well," Nolasco said. "I thought it was going to go over [Harper's] head initially, but then I saw the wind knocking it down. I figured it was an out, and as I was rounding first, with the sun, I just caught a break there. Nothing you can do about that."
In the fourth, Solano led off with a walk, advanced to second on a Brantly groundout and scored two batters later on a Bryan Petersen single. Justin Ruggiano followed with a double to center, scoring Solano and extending the Marlins' lead to 5-0.
Stanton continued his white-hot hitting at Nationals Park in the fifth, ripping a single to left, stealing second and scoring on sacrifice fly by Solano two batters later. Stanton later led off the seventh with his 33rd homer of the season, a high shot off Nats right-hander Christian Garcia that landed just over the left-field wall.
Stanton finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored and the RBI, boosting his career totals in Washington to 31-for-78 (.397) with 11 homers and 20 RBIs in 20 games at Nationals Park in three seasons. His 33 homers are also one short of his career high, which he set last season -- but in 111 more at-bats.
"This place is pretty good to me," Stanton said of Nationals Park. "I'm still in between [with my timing], but it was a good step forward. My legs have been feeling better than before I got [right knee] surgery."
Nats right-hander Edwin Jackson lasted only 4 2/3 innings on his 29th birthday, as the Marlins tagged him for six runs on nine hits. Tom Gorzelanny pitched 1 1/3 innings in relief and allowed only a walk, while Garcia was tagged for three hits, including Stanton's homer, in the seventh.
"I have to do a better job making pitches out of the stretch with men on base," Jackson said. "I have to do a better job at damage control."
Miami added another run in the eighth, as Petersen led off with a single and came around to score four batters later on a single by Carlos Lee off Mike Gonzalez. Ryan Mattheus pitched the ninth for Washington.
Ultimately, Nolasco's brilliance on the day after the Marlins were officially eliminated from contention in the National League East served as a promising tease for Miami's 2013 rotation. Alongside Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, Nolasco gives the Marlins a promising top three to look forward to contending with.
"I think we've done a really good job of staying level-headed and just keep grinding it out," Nolasco said. "Sometimes the outcomes aren't what we want, but those are things that are out of your control. You just try and go out there and get your work in between [starts] and be ready every fifth day. Hopefully we can just continue this and somehow try to carry it into next year."
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.