WASHINGTON (AP) Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams had one question for Doug Fister in the seventh inning with Andrelton Simmons due up and two men on base.
''I asked him if he wanted this man and he said `Yes,' so I turned around and went back to the dugout,'' Williams said.
Fister got the out, completing seven shutout innings and leading the Nationals to a 2-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the opener of a three-game series between the top teams in the NL East.
Adam LaRoche had two hits, and Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon each drove in a run for Washington, which increased its division lead over Atlanta to eight games.
Atlanta dropped 1 1/2 games behind the Pirates for the second NL wild card. Pittsburgh beat the Phillies 6-4.
Protecting a 1-0 lead, Fister (13-6) sandwiched walks to Freddie Freeman and Tommy La Stella around a pair of fly outs in the seventh, bringing Williams to the mound.
''My back was turned when he first walked out, so I wasn't sure if he'd already pointed, (or) if I had any options, but he came out there and he gave me the option,'' Fister said. ''That's greatly appreciated. That's the epitome of showing confidence.''
Especially since Fister had lost three straight starts. Monday night, however, he regained the form that made him one of Washington's most reliable starters.
He allowed two singles and three walks, struck out three and retired 13 of 14 during one stretch.
''I wanted to focus on keeping the ball down, but I wanted to make sure that sinker's in on right-handers. That's one of the things I focused on tonight,'' Fister said.
Drew Storen struck out the side in the ninth for his second save in two days, and Washington improved to 5-9 against Atlanta.
''We've struggled all year against the Braves,'' Storen said. ''It's nothing new to anybody, but for us to go out and play our game - and that's a tight game that can swing either way - for us to lock that down is really good.''
Mike Minor (6-10) allowed two runs and seven hits in six-plus innings for the Braves. He's pitched into the seventh inning in each of his last six starts.
Freeman singled off Matt Thornton to score pinch-runner Jose Constanza in the eighth, sending Jason Heyward to third. Craig Stammen came on and retired Justin Upton to end the inning.
Atlanta has scored just 16 runs in its last nine games.
''We felt good, to be honest with you, as a group going up to the plate,'' Jason Heyward said. ''I feel like we were just missing barrels, and that's kind of what (Fister) does.''
Braves: C Evan Gattis (strep throat) was out of the lineup. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Gattis was resting at the team's hotel and taking antibiotics. He was unsure if Gattis will play in the series.
Nationals: Williams said 3B Ryan Zimmerman (right hamstring strain) has been doing some running and agility drills as part of his rehab. ''The next step will be ramping that up and getting on the base paths,'' Williams said. ''When that will be, I don't know. But, I think he's fairly close to being able to do that.'' Zimmerman hopes to return before the regular season ends.
Braves: RHP Ervin Santana (14-7, 3.61) makes his third 2014 start against the Nationals Tuesday. He's 1-1 with 5.25 ERA against them, allowing seven runs over 12 innings.
Nationals: The Nationals haven't scored while RHP Jordan Zimmermann (10-5, 2.93) has been in the game during his two starts against Atlanta this season. He's 0-1 despite allowing only three runs in 12 innings.
SORIANO READY TO RETURN
Williams said struggling closer Rafael Soriano threw a good bullpen session Monday and is available to pitch. The manager gave Soriano the weekend off after he blew a save Friday night, his fifth since the All-Star break. Williams said for now he'll continue to choose from among Soriano, Storen, Thornton and Tyler Clippard in late-inning situations. Atlanta's Gonzalez noted: ''I know you call it closer by committee, but it's a pretty good committee. It's not like it's chopped liver.''
Minor's effort was the Atlanta staff's NL-leading 100th quality start of the season. The Dodgers were second with 93 entering Monday night. It's the 12th time Braves starters have reached 100 since 1914, and eighth since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966.