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WSH@ATL: Gonzalez strikes out nine in a fine outing

The Nationals have won seven of eight games and 13 of their last 18, and they quietly have brought themselves to within seven games of the Reds for the second Wild Card spot in the National League.

With their next 17 games coming against teams behind them in the NL East -- all of which sport sub-.500 records -- the time is now for the Nats to make a run.

It starts Thursday with a chance to sweep the Marlins in a three-game set at Nationals Park. Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez (7-6, 3.72 ERA) will try to make that happen against Marlins righty Tom Koehler (3-8, 4.45 ERA).

The Nationals, who finish off this series Thursday before facing the Mets, Phillies, Marlins, Mets and Phillies in consecutive series, are 5-0 at home against Miami, outscoring it, 17-5.

The Nationals are two games over .500 for the first time since July 11, and they have a chance to jump to three over on Thursday for the first time since July 10.

"We feel like we are playing good baseball," said reliever Tyler Clippard, who threw a perfect eighth inning in Wednesday's 4-3 win. "We are taking every day as it comes. That's all we can do. We feel very confident in how we are playing and we'll take it from there. Who knows what is going to happen? We are playing well."

The Marlins, on the other hand, have lost three in a row and seven of their last eight games. They've scored three runs or fewer in seven of those games, the only exception a 6-4 loss to the Dodgers on Aug. 20.

The poor offensive output forced Miami manager Mike Redmond to shake the lineup around on Wednesday, moving rookie Christian Yelich to the No. 3 hole. The Marlins did have 10 hits on Wednesday, but they still only scored three runs.

"We mixed it up, try something different," Redmond said. "Obviously we've been struggling to score some runs, and I've tried, I don't know how many different lineups this season. We'll try another one and see what happens, see if that makes a difference. I mean, what have we got to lose?"

Yelich went 0-for-3 Wednesday hitting third, but he did walk twice.

"It doesn't matter to me where I hit," Yelich said. "Leadoff, second, third, fifth, wherever. I take the same approach every at-bat and just go from there."

Marlins: Koehler looks to earn first win since Aug. 1
Koehler has pitched well in his last two starts, but the 27-year-old right-hander has two no-decisions to show for it.

Against the Giants on Aug. 18, Koehler threw five innings, allowing three earned runs on seven hits, and against the Rockies on Friday, he threw seven innings, allowing one earned run on six hits.

In his first 11 starts of the season, Koehler had 17 walks in 64 2/3 innings. In his last six starts, he has allowed 17 walks in 33 1/3 innings. He has never faced the Nationals.

• Juan Pierre had a simple solution to Miami's offensive troubles Tuesday night.

"Time, man," Pierre said. "Just got to go through the fire, so to speak. People can tell you how the big leagues are, but until you go through it, it doesn't really matter. Just got to get that experience. That's all I see."

• Justin Ruggiano enters Thursday with a seven-game hitting streak in D.C.

Nationals: Mattheus struggles in return
The Nationals recalled right-handed reliever Ryan Mattheus from Triple-A Syracuse on Tuesday, and he gave up a lead and took a blown save in the sixth inning Wednesday in his first outing back.

Mattheus, who was demoted to Syracuse on Aug. 15 after struggling in nine appearances following coming off the disabled list for a broken hand, gave up four hits in a two-run Miami sixth inning that turned a 2-1 Nationals lead into a 3-2 deficit.

Mattheus pitched well enough at Triple-A to throw his name back into the Nationals' bullpen mix. In five appearances with Syracuse that spanned 5 2/3 innings, the righty allowed one run on six hits, while walking none and striking out three.

Prior to Wednesday's outing, Nationals manager Davey Johnson talked about how Mattheus fits into his bullpen.

"He's back in the mix," Johnson said. "I'm still trying to find that one other pitcher that fills out to where I have two setup guys and I don't use the same ones every time we have a lead. But that's still a work in progress, where I have guys left and right that can get out left and right on one side and same thing on the other.

"Mattheus was throwing the ball good down there. He started getting extension. His split was better. His slider was better. And he was going right after hitters. And so he was back to having low-pitch-count innings. So I'll use him late, any time, left or right."

• Gonzalez matched his shortest outing of the season his last time out on Friday, lasting just 3 1/3 innings against the Royals, allowing seven earned runs on 10 hits, while walking three and striking out one. Gonzalez's ERA jumped from 3.38 to 3.72.

• Denard Span has hit safely in a season-high 11 straight games, hitting .400 (18-for-45) with two doubles, two triples, a home run and five walks. Span has a chance to match his career-high hitting streak on Thursday, which he set with the Twins last April 18-May 1.

• Bryce Harper extended his career-high hitting streak to 10 games on Wednesday, his first double-digit streak in the Majors.

Worth noting
• The Nationals enter Thursday 26-26 against the NL East this season, while the Marlins are 21-30.

• Miami is hitting .230 this season and has a 3.72 team ERA. In 10 games against Washington entering Wednesday, the club was hitting .208 with a 3.78 team ERA.

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