WASHINGTON -- Last time out against Philadelphia, Craig Stammen couldn't get out of the second inning.  What a difference five days makes.

Monday night, Stammen went eight strong innings to beat the Colorado Rockies 5-2, before 11,623 spectators, the smallest announced crowd in Nationals Park history

Stammen mixed a good curve with a sharp slider to keep Colorado hitters off-balance all night, going eight innings of five-hit, one walk ball.  He struck out five, and had Rockies hitters swinging and missing much of the night.

"He got better and better as he went along," Manager Jim Riggleman said about his starter.  "He was just outstanding."

Stammen only ran into trouble in two innings, the third and fourth.  He gave up consecutive doubles to 3B Ian Stewart and 2B Clint Barmes for the Rockies first run of the game. 

The next inning, veteran 1B Todd Helton doubled to lead off, Troy Tulowitzki singled him to third and Brad Hawpe walked to load the bases.

Stammen bore down and got a ground ball to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman by C Miguel Olivo.  Zimmerman stepped on third for the force out, but threw a little wide at home and Ivan Rodriguez could not handle the throw, scoring Helton.

But that was it for the Rockies.  Stammen benefitted from two double plays by Ian Desmond and Adam Kennedy, and Riggleman noted that in his remarks.

"[The defense] made some plays for [Stammen].  Adam Kennedy made a real nice play to his left, Desmond made a couple of really nice plays, one to his left, one to his right to get a double play.  [Stammen] let his defense help him."

Stammen got all the offensive help he needed tonight from Willie Harris.

Harris hit a three-run home run in the second inning off Rockies starter Aaron Cook (L, 0-2, 7.53) and delivered a sacrifice fly the next inning with the bases loaded to drive in four on the evening.

"Willie's a ball player," Riggleman said, stating the obvious.  "He can play anywhere on the field, gives you good at bats.  He's one of the few guys in baseball that had 100 points higher on base percentage [over batting average].  He continues to give good at bats makes the pitchers throw a lot of pitches and has a little power."

Nyjer Morgan (2-for-3, walk, RBI) knocked in the Nats' fifth run of the game, singling in Josh Willingham with two outs in the third.

Matt Capps closed things out with his sixth save in six chances, allowing a lone single to Tulowitzki.

With Jason Marquis' meltdown Sunday, the Nats really needed a starter to pick the team up, and Stammen did just that.  He's an important player for the Nats, especially with their prize free agent signee struggling early in the season. 

The Nationals are 7-6 on the young season, but numbers-wise the Nats are still at the back of the pack, last in the N.L. in ERA.  But if they keep getting performances like tonight's from Stammen, those numbers will slowly drift back to respectability.

Tuesday is the second game of the four-game set.  Scott Olsen (0-0, 6.35) hopes to build on his prior effort against Jorge De La Rosa (1-1, 2.77).  Game time is 7:05 pm.

NATS NOTES:  Before the game, GM Mike Rizzo commented on Marquis' struggles.  He reiterated that the player insists he is healthy, and to him, it's all about Marquis' lack of command thus far.

Rizzo also said P Garrett Mock was working out with the team, taking physical therapy every day for the neck inury that has limited this season.  He did not have a specific timetable for Mock's return.

Harris, Morgan and Rodriguez all had two hits apiece.  Rodriguez is hitting .450 through 13 games.

Morgan and pinch-runner Willy Taveras were both thrown out stealing by Miguel Olivo.

Adam Dunn walked twice and went 1-for-2 with two runs scored.

The team walked seven times, struck out just twice, and left seven runners on base.