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MIA@HOU: Hand pitches 7 1/3 shutout innings

Brad Hand's first two starts of the season came against the Nationals five days apart in early April. He struggled in both outings, surrendering a combined eight earned runs over 6 1/3 innings.

Hand will face the Nats again on Wednesday, but this time around, the left-hander will head to the mound on a roll. In his last two starts, he's 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA in 14 1/3 innings, including a career-high 7 1/3 scoreless innings of three-hit ball against the Astros on Friday.

After his early-season struggles, Hand returned to the bullpen for several months before missing time with an ankle sprain. But since the southpaw rejoined the rotation at the start of July, he's displayed legitimate consistency as a starter, not allowing more than three earned runs in any outing. Not to mention, since July 3, his ERA has plummeted from 6.21 to 4.19.

Hand's recent surge hasn't come as a surprise to Marlins manager Mike Redmond, though. The skipper has gushed about the Hand's potential all season, about how the left-hander has impressive stuff that could keep him in the Majors for a long time. But it wasn't until recently that the rest of the team realized Hand's capabilities -- a large part of which has resulted from improved command.

"That's the key, keep pitches down," Redmond said. "That's better for everybody. That's great for the bullpen. That helps develop these guys as starters. The goal is to get six, seven innings out of the starter, not four or five. The only way you can really do that is stay in the zone, pound the strike zone and command your pitches. Over the last two starts, Brad's done a nice job of that."

Hand will take on Nationals starter Tanner Roark on Wednesday. Roark has emerged as perhaps Washington's most dependable starter with a 2.82 ERA and a 10-6 record on the season. The right-hander has surrendered one run over seven innings while surrendering six hits or fewer in each of his past three starts.

"He has the ability to throw any pitch at any count for a strike. If he doesn't have one [pitch working], he can go to other pitches," Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Roark. "That's the art of pitching. He just continues to pound the strike zone. He gives us a chance every time he goes out there."

Nationals: Werth's ankle injury not serious
Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth was absent from the starting lineup Tuesday after spraining his right ankle trying to stretch a single into a double the previous night.

Werth was available, however, for Tuesday night's 3-0 Nats loss, and he entered as a pinch-hitter in the top of the ninth inning with runners on first and second. The veteran flied out to right for the first out of the frame. Werth expects to be back in the lineup for Wednesday's series finale.

Marlins: Stanton shows signs of improvement
It's no secret that the Marlins rely on Giancarlo Stanton to set the tone. But entering Tuesday night's contest against the Nationals, the slugger hadn't been a big factor during the team's recent hot streak.

Miami went 8-1 during its nine games entering Tuesday, including an electric six-run comeback victory over Washington on Monday night. During those nine games, Stanton went 8-for-34 with four RBIs, five walks and an alarming 15 strikeouts.

But on Tuesday night, Stanton broke through with a crucial RBI double in the sixth inning that brought home the first run of the game. He added another RBI hit in the eighth, and the performance could be a sign that the outfielder is breaking out of his recent slump at the plate.

"He's been hot for so long. You're bound to go through a rough patch, and maybe this is his rough patch," Redmond said. "Now it's just a matter of him getting through it and working through it. We know that he'll get through it. It's just a matter of when."

Worth Noting
• Williams said reliever Ross Detwiler would take on a bigger role in the Nationals' bullpen with his recent success, while Jerry Blevins would become more of a lefty specialist.

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