Call-up Chico works out of early jam as Nationals scrape out victory

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals broke an eighth-inning tie against the Florida Marlins with a rally that included only one hit: a bunt single.

After consecutive 100-loss seasons, the Nationals will take what they can get.

Their go-ahead run came by stringing together a hit batter, a wild throw on the bunt that allowed runners to reach second and third, and an intentional walk to load the bases. Then Adam Dunn was hit on the right arm by a pitch to force home the winning margin in Washington's 5-4 victory over the Marlins on Saturday.

Dunn was jokingly asked after the game if the rally went exactly planned.

"Yeah, why not? Perfect," Dunn said. "We would have lost this game last year. We're finding ways to win close games in the past we would have lost."

They're starting to believe things have turned around. Washington had to find a way to come back despite having a 3-0 lead in the fourth and getting a strong performance from starter Matt Chico, making his first major league appearance in nearly two years.

Tyler Clippard (5-0) threw 1 1/3 innings and got the win despite giving up his first home run of the year, a two-run shot by Gaby Sanchez that gave Florida a 4-3 lead in the seventh. Josh Willingham quickly evened the score with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the inning.

The Nationals loaded the bases in the eighth on reliever Burke Badenhop (0-4), then Renyel Pinto was called in from the bullpen to face Dunn.

"That's a tough situation to bring a reliever in," Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That's the game right there. The eighth inning unraveled on us."

Marlins starter Josh Johnson gave up three runs in six innings, striking out five without issuing a walk. He was in position for the win after Florida came back to take a 4-3 lead.

"It just wears you out," Marlins left fielder Cody Ross said. "You fight back and fight back, and then you end up scoring and tying it up, and it's almost like getting beat twice."

Chico also had a strong bid for his first major league win since 2007. He allowed two runs and six hits in five-plus innings, striking out three and walking none.

Chico was recalled from Double-A Harrisburg before Saturday's game to fill in for John Lannan, who skipped the start because of left elbow discomfort. Chico was making his first appearance for the Nationals since May 21, 2008, because of Tommy John surgery in July 2008.

His return got off to a rough start. Chico's first pitch hit Cameron Maybin in the foot, and a wild pitch to Sanchez sent Maybin to second. He moved to third on Sanchez's groundout, but Chico retired the next two batters to get out of the jam.

"That first pitch, all the nerves started coming back," Chico said. "It was like my first big-league game again."

Chico stayed out of trouble for the next four innings, and Willingham's RBI triple followed by Willie Harris' home run gave Washington a 3-0 lead.

Chico's scoreless outing ended when he gave up three consecutive hits to open the sixth, leading to two runs.

In the end, the starters' battle was overshadowed by the Nationals' late comeback.

"It's amazing how you win without getting a ball out of the infield," Ross said. "That's the beauty of this game. Any way you can push one across -- and they did it. They did it the hard way, and they ended up beating us."

It's something the Nationals have been able to do much better this season. They are now 6-2 in one-run games.

"Sometimes you've got to get a little lucky," manager Jim Riggleman said. "You don't go up there with a design to get hit by a pitch ... but we've been on the other end of that a few times ourselves, so we'll certainly take a break."

Game notes
Riggleman said Lannan is expected to make his next scheduled start Thursday. ... Nationals RHP Jason Marquis (right elbow), who has been on the DL since April 19, will likely start a rehab assignment next week. ... Gonzalez said OF Bryan Petersen, who made his major league debut as a pinch hitter Friday night, will get his first start Sunday. ... Johnson is 6-0 in his career against Washington.