WASHINGTON -- Preston Wilson and the Washington Nationals turned to an old formula Wednesday night.
The slumping Wilson homered for the first time in 10 games to give the Nationals an early lead, and the bullpen sealed the 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"We haven't been scoring runs. ... We haven't been getting the lead like we were able to early in the season," Washington manager Frank Robinson said. "Tonight is a formula we used with the success we had in the first part of the season."
Washington won for the fifth time in 19 games since the All-Star break and moved within 4½ games of first-place Atlanta in the NL East. The Dodgers lost for the sixth time in eight games.
Wilson hit his 18th homer of the season -- the third since joining the Nationals on July 14 -- in the fourth inning to give Washington a 2-0 lead. Wilson, who had a first-inning double, entered the game hitting .220 in 17 games with the Nationals.
"We felt like he's capable of doing it when he walks up to home plate on any given at-bat," Robinson said. "He gave us a big one tonight."
Washington first baseman Nick Johnson hit his 11th homer in the eighth off reliever Giovanni Carrara. The Nationals had hit only one home run at RFK Stadium in their previous 13 games. They hadn't had a multihomer game at home since June 30.
Tony Armas Jr. (6-5) allowed one run, four hits and struck out four over five innings before leaving the game with tightness in his shoulder. He was diagnosed with tendinitis in his shoulder and is expected to make his next start.
Luis Ayala pitched two perfect innings in relief, and Mike Stanton and Gary Majewski combined for a scoreless eighth. Chad Cordero worked a scoreless ninth to earn his major league-leading 36th save.
"We've been in a rut the last few weeks, but every once in a while we have a game where we don't make mistakes and guys get the hits," Majewski said. "It felt like it did in the first half."
Dodgers starter D.J. Houlton (4-5) went six innings, allowing two runs and five hits, striking out three. Other than Wilson's homer, only one other runner reached third base against Houlton.
"I make some bad pitches every start, every night," Houlton said. "Some of them they miss and that was one he hit and he hit it a long way."
Milton Bradley's homer in the third, his 11th, gave the Dodgers their only run.
"Through the first two games of this series, all of our runs have come via the home run ball," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said. "We were not able to, when we tried to get something going, sustain it offensively to put ourselves in a position where a base hit or a gapper could score a couple of runs for us."
Bradley, who also singled and walked, made a key mental error during the eighth inning, when he batted with no outs after Oscar Robles had reached on a single. Bradley attempted to bunt against Stanton, but he popped the ball up, and catcher Gary Bennett caught it in foul territory. Majewski entered the game and retired both hitters he faced to end the Dodgers' rally.
"I just overanalyzed the situation," Bradley said. "I thought I'd try to be a smart guy and try and trick them and lay a bunt down, move the runner up, possibly get a hit. But the last thing I expected to do was pop up, and it completely backfired and turned into a rally killer."
The Dodgers had the same lineup for the second straight game, as Jason Phillips made his seventh start of the season at first base and Dioner Navarro made his fifth start at catcher. ... Phillips left the game in the fourth inning with a contusion on his left hand after being hit by a pitch. ... Before relieving Armas, Ayala made a rare pinch-hitting appearance in the fifth. Ayala blooped a single to left for his fourth career hit. After two scoreless innings of relief, Ayala laid down a sacrifice bunt in the seventh before leaving the game.