WASHINGTON -- The ace wasn't his usual self because of a knee injury, yet he allowed one run in six innings and won his sixth straight start. The utility infielder got the first hit and scored the first run. A very lucky break was needed to score the final run.
The plucky Washington Nationals have scraped their way to five games over .500 after Thursday's 3-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, capping an impressive homestand that has the team hanging with the NL East's elite at the one-quarter mark of the season.
"Excellent homestand. You couldn't ask for much more under any circumstance," manager Frank Robinson said. "I don't care who we had out on the field."
Jose Vidro is on the disabled list, and Jose Guillen missed the last three games with a strained rib muscle. Still, the Nationals took three of four from Milwaukee and went 5-2 during this stint at RFK Stadium, winning four games by one run. They'll start a 10-day road trip Friday in Toronto with the franchise five games above the break-even mark for the first time since the Montreal Expos were 81-76 on Sept. 22, 2003.
"This team has a lot of heart. They believe in themselves," Robinson said. "They believe in each other. They believe they're going to win ballgames, and they're going out there and winning ballgames."
Livan Hernandez (7-2) left Saturday's victory over the Chicago Cubs with inflammation in his right knee and had fluid drained from the knee on Monday, but the workhorse of the staff didn't miss his scheduled start and allowed seven hits with two walks and five strikeouts before leaving for a pinch-hitter.
"I was throwing the ball with different mechanics," said Hernandez, who stayed higher during his delivery to keep from putting too much pressure on his knee. "I didn't want to push too hard. I'll do it because I want to pitch, but it's not easy. You've got in mind that any move you're going to make, it will be hurt again."
Hernandez's last loss was April 17 against Florida. His streak of six consecutive starts with a win is his longest since 1997, when he was with the Marlins. His was at his best working out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth, when he got Chad Moeller to strike out swinging at a changeup and retired pitcher Victor Santos on a one-hopper back to the mound.
"He doesn't get excited when he gets people out there on base," Robinson said. "He seems to know how to get out of it."
Jamey Carroll, getting extended playing time because of the injury to second baseman Vidro, went 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Carroll, who spoiled Wes Obermueller's bid for a perfect game in the seventh inning of the Brewers' 8-2 victory Tuesday, was again the first Washington player to reach base when he singled in the fourth and scored on Vinny Castilla's double.
The Nationals added another run in the fifth, this time with Carroll delivering the RBI that made the Brewers pay for an intentional walk. Brian Schneider led off with a double, and two outs later Milwaukee decided to put Brad Wilkerson on base to face Carroll, who singled to right-center.
And the lucky break? That came when Castilla scored from third on a passed ball. The pitch got past Moeller, but not by much. His throw to pitcher Tommy Phelps would have been in time to get Castilla, but the ball glanced off Phelps' glove, allowing the Nationals' third run.
"I feel lucky because I realized I was already halfway and the ball was right there," Castilla said. "Fortunately he didn't catch that ball."
Chad Cordero pitched the ninth for his 10th save in 12 chances, retiring Geoff Jenkins on a popup with two on to end it.
Santos (1-4) allowed five hits and two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings, but lost his fourth straight. The Brewers, who were shut out 1-0 on Wednesday, have dropped five of six.
"We haven't scored many runs lately," Santos said. "But we're still going out there with the same game plan and keeping the game close. We're going to start hitting, it's just a matter of time."
The Brewers' runs came when Bill Hall tripled to score Carlos Lee in the sixth and on Jenkins' sacrifice fly in the seventh. They got their baserunners in the seventh when Nationals reliever Hector Carrasco hit the only two batters he faced with pitches.
"We were in all these ballgames," said leadoff hitter Brady Clark. "We should've taken at least one more. Maybe it's good for us to get out of here and move on to somewhere else."
- Clark was picked off by Hernandez in the third. Clark has just three stolen bases and has been caught seven times.
- Nationals OF Jeffrey Hammonds, who got the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday, was rewarded with a second consecutive start, this time in left field. He went 0-for-3.
- Guillen will return to the lineup Friday.
- One day after fouling a pitch off his helmet, Lee was hit on the noggin again -- this time by a throw when he was advancing to third on a groundball in the sixth inning. Lee appeared unhurt and later scored.