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04/02/05 6:59 PM ET

Nationals power past Devil Rays

Loaiza shines for Washington in seven strong innings

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Washington Nationals defeated the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 5-4 in front of an announced crowd of 8,910 on Saturday at Tropicana Field.

Esteban Loaiza started for the Nationals and pitched seven strong innings, a final tuneup before his first start of the regular season Thursday against the Phillies. Loaiza allowed just five hits and one earned run while striking out four after starting the game with 4 1/3 perfect innings -- thanks in part to fielding gems by left-fielder Brad Wilkerson and first baseman Nick Johnson.

Wilkerson made a nifty catch of a Carl Crawford drive down the left-field line in the fourth while Johnson speared a line drive off the bat of Josh Phelps, who led off the fifth.

Travis Lee broke Loaiza's spell with a one-out single in the fifth. Jorge Cantu then reached first on a fielder's choice and went to second on Chris Singleton's base hit. Alex Gonzalez followed with a single up the middle to score Singleton. Nationals center fielder Ryan Church threw to third trying to get Singleton, but the ball took a bad hop, allowing Singleton to score and giving the Devil Rays a 2-0 lead.

Church atoned for his error when he led off the sixth with his first home run of the spring on a 1-0 pitch from Devil Rays starter Rob Bell. One out later, the Nationals began a succession of four consecutive singles by Johnson, Cristian Guzman, Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen to take a 3-2 lead. Bell struck out Wilkerson and Vinny Castilla to end the inning.

Termel Sledge singled to lead off the seventh and chase Bell. Johnson's RBI single off Bell's replacement, Jason Kromer, gave the Nats a 4-2 lead.

Aubrey Huff's groundout to second drove Crawford home in the eighth to cut the lead to 4-3.

Johnson added a solo home run in the ninth off Tim Corcoran to extend the Nats' lead to 5-3.

Crawford's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth drove home the Devil Rays' final run, but Alex Gonzalez got thrown out while attempting to score from second to end the game.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.