On Milone's start, Zimmerman's stroke and Difo's blunder

MIAMI - More from Thursday night's 10-3 victory over the Marlins ...

* This wasn't the first time the Nationals needed to summon a starter from Triple-A Syracuse to fill in for a regular member of the big league rotation. They previously had called upon Erick Fedde, Jefry Rodriguez and Austin Voth for situations such as the one they faced Thursday, when Stephen Strasburg landed back on the disabled list.

It took until now, though, for the Nats to call upon Tommy Milone, and that was the source of a bit of frustration for the veteran left-hander, who had to watch several less-established pitchers get a chance before he did.

"I mean, it was," Milone admitted. "It was tough, because I know there's different situations. I know Voth was throwing the ball really well in Triple-A, so I understand the move. But I just felt like I needed to iron out some things in Triple-A, so it actually, I think, benefitted me to stick around a little longer."

Milone-Throw-Gray-Sidebar.jpgIt probably takes a 31-year-old with 127 career big league starts for five different franchises to have that kind of perspective. And it paid off. Milone, who had been pitching much better for Syracuse in recent weeks after tweaking some things, made the most of his long-awaited opportunity Thursday.

After giving up three runs in the bottom of the first, he found his groove and tossed four scoreless innings, ultimately leaving the Nationals in position to try to win the game.

Most notably, Milone didn't walk anybody. He threw 69 percent of his pitches (58-of-84) for strikes. And because of that, he was able to enjoy his first start as a National since he was a rookie in 2011.

"It's awesome," he said. "I always loved being in the Nationals organization earlier. It just seems like such a good atmosphere. I'm happy to be back, and hopefully, I can help out down the road."

* Ryan Zimmerman figured to need some time to find his hitting stroke after spending two months on the disabled list, but so far the veteran first baseman has looked much better than perhaps expected.

After ripping a double off the wall in left-center to produce the tying run in Thursday's win, Zimmerman is 4 for his last 10 with three doubles. He has struck out only once in 14 at-bats since returning from the DL.

"I feel good," said the 33-year-old, who had an oblique strain. "I think, for the most part, I'm swinging at strikes. For missing two months, I'm pretty happy with where I'm at."

Davey Martinez continues to face a dilemma, though, at first base. He wants to make sure the notoriously streaky Zimmerman keeps getting opportunities to stay hot, but he also wants to make sure Matt Adams doesn't go cold sitting on the bench.

The Nats face only right-handed starters the rest of the weekend, so the platoon advantage, seemingly, would go to Adams.

* It didn't end up costing the Nats at all, but Wilmer Difo's baserunning blunder in the top of the seventh still was a source of discussion between the young infielder and his manager.

After drawing a leadoff walk in what was at that point a tie game, Difo watched as Michael A. Taylor drove a ball deep to right field. When the ball caromed off the wall, Taylor figured to have an easy double, and Difo figured to at least reach third base and possibly have a chance to score.

Instead, both guys advanced only one base. That's because Difo, instead of running halfway down the line and waiting to see whether the ball was caught or not, retreated to first base and was prepared to tag up. That left him only a couple of feet in front of an astonished Taylor, who was held to a 371-foot single.

"I talked to (Difo)," Martinez said. "In that situation, zero outs, you want to go halfway and just read it. If the guy catches it and you can get back and tag, tag. But no outs, you got to (go halfway). One out, you probably come back and tag on that."

Fortunately for the Nationals, it didn't matter in the end because later in the inning both Difo and Taylor scored on Trea Turner's triple into the right field corner.

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