WASHINGTON -- It's two weeks into the 2012 season, and Nationals manager Davey Johnson said the weekend series against the Marlins is key. It's the first time the two National League East rivals have met during the regular season this year.
"I look at all series as key, whether it's early in the year or late in the year," Johnson said before Friday's series opener. "It all about how you match up. I think we match up against anybody. But the proof is always going to be in the pudding."
On Friday, the Nationals showed how right Johnson was as they blanked the Marlins, 2-0, at Nationals Park. It was the first time in the park's history that Washington shut out Florida. The Nationals improved their record to 11-4.
Left-hander Ross Detwiler was outstanding for Washington, as he threw six shutout innings, allowed three hits, struck out a season-high seven batters and walked one.
The only time Detwiler was in any kind of trouble was in the second inning. The Marlins had runners on second and third with one out, but John Buck flied out to center fielder Rick Ankiel, and Donnie Murphy struck out to end the inning.
"Det was superb," Johnson said. "I think he had another inning in him. But he had a shortened spring where he got into the rotation late, and that was just his third outing, against a good-hitting ballclub. I didn't want to push my luck. I had a fresh bullpen. He was a little shocked that I took him out."
Detwiler has a 0.56 ERA in three starts, and it will be difficult for the Nationals to take him out of the rotation once Chien-Ming Wang is activated from the disabled list at the end of this month or early May. The original plan was to put Detwiler in the bullpen as a long reliever.
"I don't want to think about it," Johnson said. "I like what I'm seeing. [Detwiler] has been outstanding."
Marlins right-hander Carlos Zambrano was just as good, lasting seven innings and allowing a run on two hits. It was Ankiel who gave the Nationals their first run of the game, in the third inning. He swung at a 2-0 pitch from Zambrano and hit a mammoth home run over the center-field wall for his first home run of the season.
"He is a Major League hitter. That's why he's in their lineup," Zambrano said. "Good hitters, when you throw a pitch that stays in the zone, they will make you pay."
Ankiel ended up having his best game as a member of the Nationals, going 3-for-3 with two runs scored. He even made a great catch off the bat of Chris Coghlan in the seventh inning. Last year, Ankiel hit .239 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs. Johnson believes Ankiel's numbers will be even better.
"He didn't have much of a Spring Training [because of a quad injury]," Johnson said. "I like his work ethic, I like the way he is using the whole field. I think he is going to have a much better year this year. He had one heck of a game today. He was basically our offense and our defense."
Asked if this would be his best year in the big leagues as a position player, Ankiel said, "Why not? I think I found some stuff in the swing. I'm just getting older, I'm getting comfortable. Certainly the opportunity is there. If I could stay focused on what I want to do up there, swing at good pitches, I feel like [I could have my best year], too."
It was Ankiel who played a big role in the Nationals' scoring their second run. With one out, Ankiel hit what looked like a single to right field, but stretched it into a double by avoiding the tag at second base.
After advancing to second on a groundout by Jesus Flores, Chad Tracy was walked intentionally to bring up Ian Desmond, who singled off the glove of Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes. That brought Ankiel home to make it a 2-0 game.
"That was a smart by [the Marlins]," Desmond said. "I took advantage of the at-bat. I was looking for another at-bat. ... It was a smart move on their part. I just happened to get the better of them this time."
Henry Rodriguez followed scoreless innings by Craig Stammen and Tyler Clippard with a scoreless ninth to close out the win for his fourth save.
"My guys know this is a good test for us. It's a big series," Johnson said. "We have a history of not playing real well against Miami. Not that we thrashed them. We hung right in there and beat them the first time out of the chute. We know we are pretty good, but just got to prove it."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.