WASHINGTON -- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told center fielder Andre Ethier just to try to get on base to lead off the ninth in a tie game on Friday.
Ethier did better than that, as he hit a solo homer against Washington closer Rafael Soriano to break a 2-2 deadlock, helping the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 in the first of a three-game series.
Ethier, hitless in previous eight at bats, smashed a low, inside slider on a 1-2 count just over the wall in right for his sixth homer of the year.
"It was slider right there. I wouldn't say I was looking for it," said Ethier. "I was just trying to battle and get on base any way I could. It is a good team game."
"I knew (Ethier) hit it good," said Mattingly. "It was a slider down and in. He seems to be happy playing. He has been playing all over for us. He has been able to make contributions in different ways."
The Dodgers (48-47) have now won seven of their last nine games, while the Nationals (48-48) have dropped six of their last eight.
"Hopefully we can keep it going," said Ethier, whose team is now 18-5 in its last 23 games. "We know what our goals are. We know who we are chasing."
It was a disappointing second-half start for the Nationals, who began an 11-game homestand.
"Come back tomorrow and get things going," said Washington's Bryce Harper, who had two hits in the cleanup spot. "We have a lot of work ahead of us" with Zack Greinke pitching on Saturday for the Dodgers.
Soriano, who has 25 saves, is now 1-2 as he entered the game in a non-save situation. The winning pitcher was Ronald Belisario (4-5), who appeared in his team-high 47th game, while Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth for his 10th save.
Washington had tied the game at 2-2 in the sixth as Ian Desmond hit a bloop single to center to score Ryan Zimmerman, who had led off with a single and gone to third on a single by Jayson Werth.
Washington's Stephen Strasburg went seven innings and allowed two runs on seven hits with six strikeouts. He threw 104 pitches before Steve Lombardozzi pinch-hit him for him in the seventh.
Ricky Nolasco went 5 1/3 innings and allowed two runs and eight hits for the Dodgers. He got out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the fourth without allowing a run.
"The fact he got out of that (fourth inning) with nothing - I would have taken one (run). He hung in there and gets us deep into the game," Mattingly said. "Our bullpen did a good job."
Said Nolasco: "Somehow I got out of it. I was just trying to limit the damage there. I was trying to go pitch by pitch and stay away from the crooked number."
Washington manager Davey Johnson was left shaking his head. Regular first baseman and cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche missed the game with the flu. Harper batted cleanup, though he may bat leadoff when LaRoche returns.
"Anyway, tomorrow is another day," Johnson said.
Washington was 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left six runners on base in a game that began with the temperature at 92 degrees.
Desmond and Zimmerman each had two hits for Washington, which had won five of its last seven games at home prior to Friday.
NOTES: Chad Tracy was in the starting lineup at first for the Nationals, in place of LaRoche.... Brothers Jerry Hairston of the Dodgers and Scott Hairston of the Nationals are on opposite teams this weekend. Scott was acquired by the Nationals in a trade with the Chicago Cubs before the All-Star Game. "It is always good to see him," Jerry said before the game. "I know he just got traded here. I know it is a real good organization since I had a chance to play here." ... RHP Jordan Zimmermann was not able to pitch in the All-Star Game on Tuesday because of a sore neck but is slated to start Sunday against the Dodgers. "I wish my neck felt better. The break will definitely help," he said. "It was fun to hang out and watch the Home Run Derby." ... Mattingly said RHP Chris Capuano will start Tuesday at Toronto. He came off the DL on June 19 after a left shoulder strain. RHP Stephen Fife, who has been on the DL since July 7 with right shoulder bursitis, remains in Arizona on rehab. "We have to make sure he is healthy and ready to go," Mattingly said of Fife, who could play some rehab games.