"I think he grew up a little bit today." Davey Johnson, on starter Ross Detwiler.

Detwiler delivers in another impressive performance. (photo by Cheryl Nichols)

In his previous start, left-hander Ross Detwiler held the Philadelphia Phillies down for 7 1/3 innings, giving up no runs and just three hits over that period.  What would he do for an encore?  Taking on an Atlanta Braves team fighting for their playoffs lives, Detwiler threw six more shutout innings leading a surging Washington Nationals team past the Braves 3-0, before an appreciative crowd of 37,638 in the last home game of the season at Nats Park.

The Nationals now stand 2 1/2 games above the New York Mets, with three games remaining, for third place in the N.L. East.  With a record of 78-80, if they can somehow continue the hot streak they've been riding for three weeks and sweep the Florida Marlins this week, the Nats would finish above .500 for the first time since the move in 2005.

The Nats have won 13 of their last 17 games.

Wilson Ramos and Michael Morse provided all the offense, as each homered to support the cause.  Morse's two-run shot in the seventh was his 29th of the season and prompted a curtain call from the enthusiastic Nats fans.

Morse earned a curtain call for his two-run home run, his 29th of the season. (photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Detwiler cruised through the first two innings, retiring six straight Braves batters.  But all of a sudden in the third inning, Detwiler lost it.  Catcher David Ross lined a single to center.  No. 8 hitter Jack Wilson worked an eight-pitch walk.  Then Detwiler issued a four-pitch walk to pitcher Mike Minor, when the opposing hurler was trying to sacrifice.

But the lanky lefty was able to compose himself.  Two lazy fly balls and a grounder to third ended the inning, stranding all three Braves runners.  Detwiler didn't run into any more problems completing his six innings.  Overall, he gave up just four base hits and walked two, striking out four.  It was a composed and impressive performance from a young pitcher that seems to be maturing before our eyes.

After Detwiler departed, Henry Rodriguez (3 Ks), Tyler Clippard (2 Ks) and Drew Storen (1 K) threw three innings of perfect baseball to seal the win.  Storen recorded his 42nd save of the season.

With all the excitement of Brad Peacock and Tom Milone's progress through the minors and brief success in the bigs at the end of the year, Detwiler's been something of a forgotten man in the rotation.  He's quietly gone 4-5 now with an even 3.00 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 15 games and 10 starts.

Manager Davey Johnson said after the game those that are writing off Detwiler for next season are making a big mistake.  "There's a lot of guys hungry for this rotation.  The effort that you're seeing is outstanding.  He's definitely in the picture to be in the starting rotation [in 2012]."

"I've seen [Ron] Darling, Sid Fernandez and [Rick] Aguilara, young pitchers with great promise that took longer [to develop].  I know Det had a number of starts last year, but what he's done this year, from being in the bullpen... to back in the rotation, he's pitching to good hitting ballclubs and done okay, held his head above water.  This was probably the biggest game of the year for him, going against this club.  To hold them down to zilch... was a great effort."

The Nats now take back to the road for the final three games of the season in Miami, to close out Sun Life Stadium as a baseball facility.  The Marlins, who will be rebranded the Miami Marlins as part of the agreement the team has with southern Florida lawmakers for public financing of the new stadium, have always been a thorn in the Nats side, this season winning 10 of the 15 games the teams have played thus far.

Regardless of the outcome in Florida, the Nats have already picked up nine games over what they finished with last year, a remarkable 19-game improvement -- so far -- over the last two seasons.  Anything they pick up in Florida is gravy at this point.  But a sweep would complete an utterly improbable run for the .500 mark that has seen the Nationals go 15-9 so far in September.

Small steps.

THE GOOD:  Michael Morse's home run was to deep right center and provided cushion in the close game.  He went 2-for-3 with a walk.  Wilson Ramos' homer, his 15th of the year, was a line drive shot into the flower bed just above the wall in left field.

THE BAD:  With the Braves losing two of three to the Nats, and the St. Louis Cardinals win over the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta finds their once eight-game lead over the Cards down to one with three games remaining.

THE UGLY:  Chris Marrero had a tough day, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and six men left on base.

THE STATS:  9 hits, 2 BBs, 8 Ks.  0-for-10 w/RISP, 8 LOB, zero GIDP.  No errors.

NEXT GAME:  Monday at the Florida Marlins at 7:10 pm.  Tommy Milone (1-0, 3.32) faces Anibal Sanchez (8-9, 3.67).

Chris Marrero disappears after chaing after foul ball. (photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Zim made Gold Glove caliber spin-and-throw in ninth inning. (photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Pudge giving thumbs up to fans after last home game (photo by Cheryl Nichols)