WASHINGTON -- Livan Hernandez was as good at the plate as he was on the mound.
Hernandez didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning, took a shutout into the ninth, and drove in a key run with one of his two singles to lead the Washington Nationals past the Florida Marlins 5-2 Monday.
"I like the big games," said Hernandez, the World Series MVP for Florida in 1997. "I'm not the kind of guy that is nervous."
Washington has won three straight games for only the second time in two months, and this streak was built against Philadelphia and Florida, clubs ahead of the Nationals in the tight NL wild-card race.
"What I think they've done the last three days is play the way they're capable of playing," said manager Frank Robinson, who banned loud music, card playing and cell phone conversations from the clubhouse after Washington's last loss. "Their attention is now on baseball itself and not a lot of outside stuff, and it's starting to show up on the field."
"They understand the importance of each start now, and each one of them's going out there and raising their game a level or two," Robinson said. "If these three pitch that way the rest of their starts, we have a very good chance of winning this wild card."
Houston beat Philadelphia 4-3 on Monday night and moved a half-game ahead of the Phillies and one game ahead of Florida in the wild-card race. Washington is 1½ games behind Houston, while the New York Mets trail by three games.
Hernandez (15-6) was far more effective than during recent struggles attributed mainly to a bothersome right knee that's been drained during the season.
"He doesn't give you many mistakes to hit. It was just command. He was not throwing 95 mph at you. It was just pinpoint control," Florida outfielder Jeff Conine said.
Marlins manager Jack McKeon said Hernandez "did a great job," but added: "We were swinging at a lot of first pitches and helping him out."
As always, Hernandez was deliberate throughout: slow walks to and from the mound at the start and finish of each inning; a slow, reliable changeup; a jog to first when he hit into a bases-loaded double play to end the sixth.
"I'm not 100 percent," Hernandez reminded everyone.
But there were exceptions: The burly right-hander ran to the dugout after striking out Juan Pierre on an 86 mph fastball to end the top half of the eighth.
And in the bottom half, with Washington clinging to a 1-0 lead and June draft pick Ryan Zimmerman on after a leadoff single, Robinson went to his bench for consecutive pinch-hitters. Brian Schneider was intentionally walked and Carlos Baerga flied out, bringing up Hernandez with two on and two outs.
Time for another pinch-hitter, right? Nope, Robinson didn't even consider it.
"My thinking is: He's in complete control of that ballgame. He's a battler, he's a warrior, and I'm not going to take him out there and interrupt things out there on the field," the manager said. "I just felt like if we went into the top of the ninth ahead 1-0 with him out there, we still had a good chance of winning the ballgame."
So Hernandez, the Silver Slugger Award winner last year as the NL's top-hitting pitcher, poked an RBI single to shallow right off reliever Guillermo Mota to make it 2-0, then pointed toward the dugout with both index fingers while standing on first base.
"He can hit. It's not like you're sending an out up there every time," Brad Wilkerson said.
Marlon Byrd padded the lead with a three-run double, one of his three hits. Washington pushed across its first run on Jose Guillen's single in the first inning -- despite getting three hits and a walk there against rookie Jason Vargas (5-3).
Hernandez went 1-2 with a 6.69 ERA in August; in his previous seven starts, he allowed 10 hits five times, and allowed the opponent to score in the first inning six times. Against the Marlins, who entered second in the NL in batting average at .271, he looked once again like the pitcher who was an All-Star and won 11 straight decisions this year.
"He had it all working today. That looked like Livo from the first half," Nationals catcher Gary Bennett said. "He's throwing anything at any time."
- Nationals 3B Vinny Castilla tossed his helmet along the dirt in front of the dugout after being replaced by a pinch runner in the sixth.
- The Nationals recalled RHP Darrell Rasner from Double-A Harrisburg to start Tuesday.