WASHINGTON — Don’t expect reliever Tyler Clippard to begin bragging about his suddenly prodigious win total.
Josh Willingham homered in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals beat the struggling Florida Marlins 3-2 on Sunday, giving Clippard his sixth victory of the season.
To Clippard, posting a win often means he didn’t do his job, then benefited from some late offense.
“They’re talking smack to me, saying, ‘You’ve got to give us some of those wins,” Clippard said. “And I want to. It’s kind of been a frustrating thing as a reliever. … You’re really not wanting to get wins, you’re wanting to get holds. But the bottom line is we’re winning games. If you ask everybody in this clubhouse who’s getting the W, nobody cares as long as (the team) is getting the W.’ “
Willingham hit a 1-1 changeup from Clay Hensley (1-1) into the left-field bullpen for his sixth homer, after Florida’s Jorge Cantu had tied the game in the top of the inning with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly off Clippard.
“(Hensley) left me a pitch out over the plate and I was able to hit it well,” said Willingham, who homered on Mother’s Day for a second consecutive year. “That’s probably the only mistake he made all day.”
Willingham’s mother Denise called him Sunday morning from Florence, Ala., only half-jokingly requesting another celebratory blast.
“I said, ‘I can’t promise you anything, but I’ll try,”’ Willingham said.
Clippard (6-0) has two more victories than any Washington starter. He entered the game in the eighth inning and allowed a hit and a walk before wriggling out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam by surrendering only Cantu’s run-scoring fly. Matt Capps got the final three outs for his major league-leading 13th save.
“Clippard and Capps, we’ve got to back off of them,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. “Those guys, we’re asking so much of them and they’re answering every time. … We can’t keep riding that day after day.”
Clippard is the seventh reliever in the modern era to win six of his team’s first 31 games. The New York Yankees’ Jeff Nelson was the last to do it, in 2000.
The Nationals won for the fourth time in six games and secured their sixth series victory, something they didn’t accomplish last season until July 22.
“I know a lot of people don’t talk about us. Who cares?” said Nationals starter Livan Hernandez, whose surprising ERA rose to 1.04 after seven innings of one-run ball. “We got a good team, we play hard every day and the numbers talk.”
Hanley Ramirez homered for the Marlins, who have lost five of six.
“Our offense is in a little rut right now,” said Florida’s Cody Ross. “We’re in an offensive slump, that’s what it boils down to. Every day it seems like it’s lose, lose, lose, come back and tie it up, and end up losing. It’s not a whole lot of fun.”
The Nationals took a 1-0 lead in the first when Nyjer Morgan walked, went to third on Adam Kennedy’s hit-and-run single, and scored on Ryan Zimmerman’s double-play grounder.
Marlins starter Anibel Sanchez’s wildness helped Washington make it 2-0 in the third. Kennedy drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on Adam Dunn’s opposite-field single to left.
Ramirez homered to lead off the sixth, sending a 1-1 pitch into the first row of the right-field stands. It was his third home run in 19 career at-bats against Hernandez.
Sanchez (1-3) lasted 4 1-3 innings, giving up two runs on six hits, while Hernandez pitched seven innings of one-run ball. He allowed five hits, walked one and struck out three.
NOTES: Before the game, the Nationals designated LHP Matt Chico for optional assignment and purchased the contract of LHP Doug Slaten from Triple-A Syracuse. The procedural move permits Washington to retain its rights to Chico, who will be assigned to Double-A Harrisburg and remains on the 40-man roster. … Florida LHP Dan Meyer, who has been on the 15-day DL since April 26 with a strained left calf, is expected to be activated Monday. LHP Hunter Jones was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans after the game. … The Marlins are the only team in the majors without a home run from a left-handed hitter. … Nationals RHP Jason Marquis, on the 15-day DL with a right elbow problem, will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Class-A Potomac on Tuesday.