One respectable month is hardly enough to establish the Washington Nationals as contenders in the NL East.
After finishing with the worst record in the majors the last two years, however, the Nationals' best April since they moved to the nation's capital would certainly be progress.Washington can achieve that feat with a victory Friday night as the club continues its road trip against the struggling Florida Marlins.The Nationals (12-10) are ensured of finishing with a winning record for the first time in any month since going 15-12 in September 2007. This is their first winning April since they were 13-11 in their first month in Washington in 2005.The club can better that mark with a third straight win after it took two in a row from Chicago at Wrigley Field. Adam Dunn's fourth home run was the difference in a 3-2 victory Wednesday."I know we're capable of playing this way, but it's so early," Dunn said. "The positive thing is we still don't have our A-lineup. If we continue to get the pitching and play defense, we're going to be fine."Washington is playing without All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has not started since April 21 due to a hamstring problem. Pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg, meanwhile, remains with Double-A Harrisburg.Despite awaiting the right-hander's major league debut, the Nationals have received strong pitching. Washington, last in the NL with a 5.00 ERA in 2009, has allowed 12 runs in going 4-2 in the last six games.Craig Stammen (1-0, 6.75 ERA) contributed a strong outing during that stretch, giving up three runs in seven innings of a 4-3, 13-inning loss to Los Angeles on Saturday.It was the second straight quality start for Stammen since the right-hander allowed seven runs over 1 1/3 innings of a 14-7 defeat at Philadelphia on April 14.Stammen had a 10.29 ERA in two starts against Florida as a rookie last year, and he may be especially careful with star Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who went 4 for 5 with a double and a home run against him.After going 3-14 against Florida in 2008 and losing the first nine meetings last year, Washington won six of nine versus the Marlins.Florida (11-11) has dropped four of five overall and is trying to avoid its first three-game skid of 2010. The Marlins had an early 4-0 lead against San Diego on Wednesday but allowed five runs in the fifth inning and lost 6-4."We're still there at .500," manager Fredi Gonzalez told the team's official Web site. "The division, we're bunched up."Gonzalez will be happy to hand the ball to Ricky Nolasco (2-0, 3.03) as the right-hander looks to win his third straight start.Nolasco pitched a complete game in a 5-1 win at Philadelphia on April 17 and was almost as good at Colorado on Saturday, allowing one run in eight innings of a 4-1 victory. He struck out a season-high nine."He's throwing lights-out," teammate Brett Carroll said. "He throws everything for strikes. He doesn't have any patterns, and that's difficult as a hitter."Nolasco is 7-1 with a 3.86 ERA against Washington, including 4-0 with a 3.21 ERA in four home starts.