Church and the Nationals could move into first place in the NL East when they resume a three-game series with the Florida Marlins.
Washington is within one-half game of co-leaders Atlanta and Florida. The Marlins are actually percentage points ahead of the Braves. A win Saturday and a loss by the Braves in Pittsburgh would give the Nationals sole possession of first place.
“It’s nice to be near the top,” Washington manager Frank Robinson said. “It’s nice to be on top, if you get there. It’s better to be there than last place. But we have to understand what the circumstances are. You can’t get carried away with it. Our goal is to get on top.”
Church’s emergence has been just as surprising as the Nationals’ strong play. The outfielder hit just .190 in April before rebounding to earn NL Rookie of the Month honors in May after batting .377 with 11 RBIs for the month.
Church lifted a sacrifice fly in the 11th inning as Washington opened the series with a 3-2 win Friday. The Nationals did not have a hit after the fourth inning and still managed their fifth victory in six games.
“It just shows what kind of team that we are,” Church said. “We don’t give up.”
Church is hitting .394 (26-for-66) over his last 22 games.
Tomo Ohka is searching for his fourth straight win for Washington. He is 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA over his last four starts, not including 5 2-3 innings of scoreless relief against Milwaukee on May 17.
Ohka gave up an unearned run and three hits over seven innings of a 3-2 win over Atlanta on Monday. The effort came eight days after the 29-year-old right-hander give up two runs and five hits over eight innings in a 9-2 win at Toronto.
“If he continues to pitch the way he is capable of pitching—and the way he’s pitched in his last two starts—it certainly is going to make us a better ballclub,” Robinson said.
Ohka has had plenty of problems with the Marlins in his career, going 1-10 with a 5.10 ERA in 14 starts. He went 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA against Florida in a pair of starts in April.
Florida is hoping for better results from its bullpen. Marlins relievers have a 6.23 ERA over the last 10 games.
With the bullpen struggling, Florida is among the teams that have expressed interest in right-hander Danny Graves. Graves was released by Cincinnati after going 1-1 with 10 saves and a 7.76 ERA this season.
Washington is also reportedly courting Graves.