WASHINGTON -- Right now, the roles don't matter a bit for the Washington Nationals' relievers. Whatever they're asked to do, they do - and the team's winning.
Take Washington's 6-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night: a long reliever started, a sometime-starter relieved him, the closer threw a perfect eighth, and the main setup guy tossed a perfect ninth.
All told, six pitchers came out of the bullpen to provide a total of five shutout innings, and Ryan Church delivered a go-ahead, three-run double to help the last-place Nationals collect their fifth victory in six games.
"Today we showed what we're capable of," said Jon Rauch, who ended the game with two strikeouts for his second save as a temporary replacement for closer Chad Cordero.
"Out of the bullpen, your job's to come in and get guys out, regardless of what the situation is -- whether you come in and you're a long guy or you're a guy that has to come in and eat up innings or set up or whatever."
Now Washington enters Thursday's finale with a chance to win its second series in a row after failing to win any of its first 12 this season.
That recent run of success is thanks not only to a bullpen that has allowed one run in its last 16 2/3 innings, but also to an offense suddenly capable of hitting in the clutch. Washington entered the game with an NL-worst team batting average of .230 -- which dipped to .172 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
"You want to come through in that situation," Church said. "That's all we've been preaching: 'Hey, it's going to happen. The timely hits are going to happen."'
He was up in the fifth with the bases loaded, two outs and Washington trailing 4-3. After Kyle Davies (1-2) threw a 93 mph fastball past Church to get the count to 1-2, the right-hander hung a curveball.
"I made a mistake with Church, and he hit it," Davies said. "He didn't hit it that hard -- he just put it in the right place."
The liner to right-center capped a four-run inning in which the Nationals batted around and all of the runs were unearned, thanks to second baseman Kelly Johnson's fielding error.
"You can't sit there and point fingers," said Davies, who lasted 4 2/3 innings and was charged with six runs -- two earned -- and five hits.
Church's big hit helped overcome a shaky first major league start by Levale Speigner, who until Wednesday had been used primarily as a long reliever.
Speigner, facing the club he grew up cheering for in Thomasville, Ga., was moved into the rotation to fill in for Shawn Hill, who's on the disabled list. The right-handed Speigner lasted four innings, allowing at least one hit in each, and gave up four runs and eight hits.
His day nearly ended very quickly. The game's second batter, Edgar Renteria, hit a liner right up the middle that skimmed the outside of Speigner's arm as the pitcher tried to duck out of the way.
"It was scary," Speigner said.
"I was like, 'Oh, my, not now,"' manager Manny Acta said.
Speigner was followed by Billy Traber (1-0), who's been a starter and earned the win by pitching his first inning of 2007 for the Nationals.
He arrived at the park around gametime, having been called up from Triple-A Columbus earlier in the day to take the roster spot of starter Jerome Williams, sent back to the disabled list with shoulder problems one day after coming back from an ankle injury that put him on the DL.
Ray King (two outs), Winston Abreu (one out), Saul Rivera (three outs), Cordero (three outs) and Rauch (three outs) finished up.
Cordero just returned after a bereavement leave that allowed him to spend time with his grandmother before her death, and Acta has said he wants to work the 2005 All-Star slowly back into things. Before taking the break, Cordero had blown half his eight save chances.
Now he should reclaim his closer role. Not that it seems to matter to Nationals relievers where they pitch.
"It's nice to see that (Rauch) can close the games," Acta said. "That being said, what you do in four years, I don't forget in four outings. So after a day off tomorrow, if we can, Cordero's our closer again."
Braves 3B Chipper Jones, who missed the previous four games with bruised hands and thumbs, doubled and scored on Andruw Jones' two-run single in the first. ... Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman had a double, homer and two RBI.