Willis' wild pitches, error doom Marlins against Nats

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Dontrelle Willis kept helping the Washington Nationals put runners on base, then helping them come around to

He gave up one run on a wild pitch and another on a throwing
error, generosity the Nationals needed, given that they went
1-for-14 with runners in scoring position and left 14 men on in

The Nationals managed to scratch out a 5-2 victory over the
lackluster Willis and the Florida Marlins on Wednesday night,
thanks in part to Nationals starter Ramon Ortiz working in and out
of trouble into the seventh inning.

"It was bad luck, and a combination of a lot of things," said
Willis, who's 7-9 a year after finishing second in the NL Cy Young
Award voting. "But even with me struggling, we still had a chance
to win the game."

That's true: Ortiz (9-9) had one 1-2-3 inning, yet somehow
managed to be tagged for just one earned run despite eight hits, a
wild pitch and a hit batter. The Marlins were about as efficient in
the clutch as the Nationals, going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring
position and leaving 10 men aboard.

Ortiz was effective with his slider and by working the inside
part of the plate -- all in a game called by a catcher making his
major league debut, Brandon Harper, who doubled in the second
inning in his first at-bat.

"It's always good to get that first one out of the way -- help
me relax a little bit," said Harper, finally in the majors after
more than 2,000 at-bats in the minors since 1997.

Rookie Ryan Zimmerman had two hits, two walks and scored three
runs for the Nationals, who had lost three consecutive games and
seven of 10. Alex Escobar drove in two runs with sacrifice flies.

"Thank goodness for Escobar -- at least we got two in from third
base," Washington manager Frank Robinson said.

Washington could have scored plenty more, when you consider that
Willis allowed eight hits and five walks, hit a batter and threw
two wild pitches. And there's this: Marlins relievers tacked on six
more walks. And this: The Nationals put their first batter on base
in every inning.

"People will say, 'You won the ballgame, what are you crying
about?' But you have to understand that if you take advantage of
the opportunities you have, it's an easier game for you," Robinson
said. "The way it was, we were fighting for our lives at the end
of the ballgame."

Willis was charged with four runs -- three earned -- as he labored
through 114 pitches over 5 1/3 innings. Both wild pitches came in
the first inning, and one allowed Alfonso Soriano to trot home.
Willis gave up another run in the first on a fielder's choice
groundout, one in the third on an Escobar flyout, and one in the
fifth after loading the bases with two walks and a single. That
last run came when Willis' throw on a comebacker pulled catcher
Miguel Olivo off the plate.

"He got in trouble. He wasn't hitting his spots," said
Washington's Felipe Lopez, whose single in the sixth was it for

A batter earlier, manager Joe Girardi and a trainer visited
Willis on the mound because the left-hander indicated he was having
trouble squeezing his pitching hand. But Willis said he was OK, and
stayed in briefly.

"He hasn't been able to sustain it this year," Girardi said.
"I know he's frustrated with it. Sometimes things just don't go
your way. You're the same guy, you prepare the same way every day,
and sometimes you just don't find that rhythm."

Willis is 1-2 with a 4.59 ERA in six starts since the All-Star

Robinson's assessment: "He hasn't been as good or as sharp this
year as he has in the past."

While the Marlins have a rotation filled out by promising
rookies, the Nationals have been pressed to find five healthy
starters. Now, with staff ace Livan Hernandez gone via trade, and
No. 2 starter John Patterson out injured, Ortiz has become the de
facto anchor.

He leads the Nationals in wins, and is 3-0 with a 3.96 ERA in
his last four starts. When he walked off the field to a standing
ovation with two on in the seventh, the slender right-hander tipped
his cap.

"Right now, he's the best pitcher we have on the team,"
Soriano said. "I hope he continues pitching like that."

Game notes
Nationals LHP Micah Bowie left after facing three batters
in the seventh with a mild strain in his upper back, and Robinson
said he's probably going to need a few days. ... Washington closer
Chad Cordero pitched the ninth for his 20th save.