Nationals 6, Marlins 4

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WASHINGTON (AP)—There was a time a year ago when Jason Simontacchi wondered whether he would ever win another big league game. There was a time only a few days ago when Washington Nationals fans had to wonder whether their team was capable of sweeping a series.

Both hurdles were cleared Sunday when the Nationals beat the Florida Marlins 6-4, completing a three-game sweep that, if nothing else, put Washington ahead of the Kansas City Royals at the bottom rungs of the major leaguers.

“We get our first sweep today, and we’ve got a lot of catch-up to do still,” manager Manny Acta said. “We need every win we can get, and it’s not going to get any easier, so it was nice to do that.”

After an eight-road losing streak, the Nationals initially were happy just to win a series for the first time—a chance for a sweep was just a bonus. It certainly was an eventful three games: Shawn Hill had a no-hitter on Friday before having to leave with a sore elbow; Ryan Zimmerman ended a rain-interrupted matchup Saturday with a ninth-inning grand slam at 1:42 a.m.; and the Nationals got a win from Simontacchi (1-1) while finally mastering the most unlikely of nemeses, Marlins starter Wes Obermueller.

Simontacchi had not won in nearly four years—since a two-inning stint as a reliever for St. Louis against Houston on Sept. 20, 2003. He was out of the majors in 2005 and 2006 while recovering from shoulder surgery, and his 2007 debut for the Nationals was delayed until last week because of a strained groin in spring training. The low point came last year, when he went to spring training with the Chicago Cubs.

“My shoulder just wasn’t ready to go, and I started questioning whether or not it was going to happen,” Simontacchi said.

Backed by a five-run second inning that included a two-run triple by Cristian Guzman—Guzman’s first RBIs since 2005—Simontacchi kept hitters off balance for most of his 5 1-3 innings. He even broke up a double play by a hard slide during the big second inning.

“I’m just trying to play baseball the way it’s supposed to be played,” Simontacchi said. “It’s hard-nosed baseball.”

The Marlins were swept for the third time this season and have lost seven of nine. Not even Obermueller vs. the Nationals could save them this time.

Obermueller (1-2) has only two major league victories since 2004, and both were gems against Washington. He entered the game 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA against the Expos-Nationals franchise and 7-20 against everyone else.

This time, the Nationals battered him for five runs in the second inning, although four were unearned because charging third baseman Miguel Cabrera couldn’t handle a high chopper with the bases loaded. After the game, Florida traded reliever Jorge Julio, who allowed Zimmerman’s slam on Saturday, to the Colorado Rockies. They also said first baseman Mike Jacobs might have to go on the disabled list with a thumb injury.

“We’re having our struggles right now, but we’re trying to battle and fight back,” Obermueller said. “The tides will turn.”

Simontacchi’s offspeed pitches saw him through five good innings, but Dan Uggla opened a four-run sixth for Florida with a fly ball double that left fielder Ryan Church lost in the sun.

The Nationals regained a two-run cushion on Jesus Flores’ RBI single in the bottom of the sixth. Jon Rauch pitched the ninth for his first save.

“Two of three is great, but three out of three is icing on the cake,” Simontacchi said.

Notes

Jacobs, who has been nursing a sore right thumb for a week, didn’t last long in his return to the starting lineup. He lost the grip on his bat when he struck out swinging in the fourth and was replaced in the field that inning by Jason Wood. “He’s hurting,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We’ve got to re-evaluate him tomorrow. He’s trying to push through it, but it gets real aggravated.” … One game after hitting a career-high three doubles, Uggla hit two more. However, he was picked off second base in the third inning after his first double. … Church’s mother, Karen, threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Mother’s Day. Many players from both teams used pink bats that will be auctioned for charity.

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