WASHINGTON -- As good as Florida's pitching has been, a victory in a game started by Ismael Valdez felt like a bonus.
Valdez combined with two relievers on a five-hitter for his first win in more than a month, and Luis Castillo went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBI in a rare chance to lead off, lifting the Marlins past the Washington Nationals 4-2 Tuesday night.
"No question, it pumps us up. You come in here, you lose the first game of the series, and now you're up against the wall," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "It's nice to come out of this one and have one of your top pitchers going the next one, then another top pitcher the next one."
That would be Dontrelle Willis, who will try to become the franchise's first 20-game winner Wednesday, followed by 2003 World Series MVP Josh Beckett on Thursday.
The Nationals, meanwhile, have lost two starters to injuries, so on Tuesday they sent Darrell Rasner to the mound in his major league debut. He didn't make it out of the third inning, giving up three runs on four hits and taking the loss.
Five relievers followed, but none went longer than two innings, so the bullpen should be ready to work Wednesday if another Nationals spot starter -- lefty John Halama -- doesn't go deep.
"We'll go through the whole staff again tomorrow," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "I'm not thinking long term, right now. I'm thinking about trying to win that one tomorrow. It's going to be a handful in itself."
Not an ideal situation for a club trying to stay in a playoff race.
With Houston's 2-1 victory at Philadelphia, Florida moved past the Phillies and into second place in the NL wild-card standings, one game behind the Astros. The Nationals dropped to 2½ games off the pace.
Florida and Washington count on their pitching -- both rank in the NL's top six in team ERA. But Valdez (2-1) missed much of the season with a broken right leg, came in with a 4.36 ERA, and his only previous victory of 2005 came Aug. 1.
"That's the guy we have to beat," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "We expected to win tonight. It's going to be tough tomorrow and the day after."
Valdez represents the latest in a series of unheralded starters who have silenced Washington, which had won three straight games.
He limited the Nationals to three hits in five innings, the only damage coming on Brad Wilkerson's 11th homer, a two-run shot in the third.
That cut Florida's lead to 3-2, but Washington only got one more runner as far as second base. Brian Moehler threw three innings of one-hit ball, and Todd Jones got three outs in the ninth for his 35th save -- and 25th in a row.
"I just keep my mouth shut and keep going," Jones said, "because I don't want this to end."
Given his recent form, it wasn't all that surprising Washington couldn't produce a comeback in front of an announced crowd of 24,936, the second-lowest of the club's first season in D.C.
And, frankly, it shouldn't have been surprising that Rasner had trouble, straight from Double-A Harrisburg. He had to share a locker with fellow call-up Travis Hughes in the cramped home clubhouse.
After getting through two innings without allowing a hit, Rasner's curveball deserted him. Damion Easley doubled in the third, and scored on a first-pitch single up the middle by Castillo, leading off the order for just the ninth time this season. Jeremy Hermida followed with a double to right, making it 2-0. When Juan Encarnacion smacked an RBI double, that was it for Rasner -- 55 pitches over 2 2/3 innings.
"My stuff wasn't as sharp as it was the first two innings. Just a struggle that last inning," Rasner said. "I'm excited to get this opportunity, and I wish it could have been a little better for this ballclub."
In the fifth, Castillo greeted Mike Stanton by hitting the lefty reliever's first pitch for his fourth homer of the year.
"He put the ball too high," Castillo said.
Florida SS Alex Gonzalez said an MRI exam on his right elbow revealed a bone bruise. He'll rest it, then start throwing next week, he said. ... 3B Vinny Castilla's fielding miscue in the second ended Washington's streak of errorless games at nine, one short of the franchise record. 2B Jamey Carroll made an error in the eighth. ... Washington's Brian Schneider caught Castillo and Juan Pierre on steal attempts -- the first catcher to throw out both in the same game since Washington's Gary Bennett did it on April 18. Schneider has caught 28 of 71 would-be basestealers, a majors-high 39 percent.