Nats aim to boost playoff chances versus Marlins

The wild card hunt is still on for the Washington Nationals, but time is not on their side.

The Nationals are five games back in the wild card race with nine to play and must take care of their own business with some added help to fulfill postseason hopes. They will get back to work Friday in the second meeting of a four-game series versus the Miami Marlins.

Washington continued its 10-game homestand (5-2) with Thursday's 3-2 win over the Marlins and Bryce Harper's three-run homer in the first inning off Henderson Alvarez proved to be the difference. Harper and Ryan Zimmerman were 3-for-4 and Ian Desmond finished with two hits.

"I like being in those pressure situations, those crucial situations, playing for the wild card," Harper said. "All year long, you try to play for the playoffs and try to go to that next round."

Denard Span was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and his career-long 29-game hitting streak came to a halt. Span batted .374 with five doubles, two triples, two home runs and nine RBI before the streak ended and was one game away from the team record set by Zimmerman.

"I'll be honest, I was definitely upset," Span said on the club's website. "I haven't not gotten a hit in 29 days, so that felt weird, walking back to the dugout without getting a hit. I felt sad, like I let myself down, let the fans down, they've been rooting for me.

"Once the game was over, I was able to take a deep breath and say, 'You know what? Now I can move on.' We got a win and now let's see if we can finish these last few games strong."

Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez pitched well over six innings and was charged with two runs and seven hits with three strikeouts and two walks. Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano each tossed a scoreless inning of relief, with Soriano posting his 42nd save to secure Washington's 14th win in the past 18 tries.

The Nats hope Jordan Zimmermann can add to that success when he shoots for his 19th win of the season Friday. Zimmermann is second in the majors with 18 wins (18-8), while leader Max Scherzer is 19-3 and takes the ball Friday for the Detroit Tigers versus the Chicago White Sox.

Zimmermann has won three straight starts and is 4-1 in his past five decisions. He allowed two runs in seven innings of an 11-2 win over Philadelphia on Sunday and struck out seven with two walks. The right-hander, who is 11-3 in 17 home starts, has won both of his appearances against the Marlins this season and is 3-3 with a 3.92 ERA in 10 career starts in this series.

Miami continued its 11-game road trip (2-6) with Thursday's loss and Alvarez pitched well save the early three-run home run by Harper. Alvarez lasted five innings and permitted seven hits.

"That ended up being the game. Three-run home run, that was it," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "Unfortunately for us, we've had that scenario happen several times."

Ed Lucas had three hits and an RBI and Justin Ruggiano drove in the other run for the Marlins, losers in 11 of their last 14 games.

Hoping to snap Miami's seven-game slide in D.C. will be Jacob Turner, who will make his 20th start of the season. Turner has struggled as of late with an 0-6 mark and a 4.60 ERA in his last 11 starts. The Marlins are 1-10 in that stretch and dropped a 3-1 decision in Turner's last outing Sunday against the New York Mets. He allowed all three runs through five innings to fall to 3-7 in 19 starts with a 3.51 ERA.

Turner, a right-hander, is 0-5 in 10 road assignments and lost a start to Washington on Sept. 8, when he surrendered five runs in four innings of a 6-4 loss at Marlins Park. In three starts lifetime against the Nationals, Turner has an 0-2 mark to go along with a 7.20 ERA.

The Nationals are 12-4 against the Marlins this season and has prevailed in seven of the past eight matchups between the clubs.