WASHINGTON -- For a brief moment Friday night, it appeared the Nationals might again waste Max Scherzer's latest dominant start. Then Bryce Harper made sure they didn't.
Harper connected for his 500th career RBI on his third hit, plating the first of three seventh-inning insurance runs after the Marlins scored twice in the top of the inning. In the process, he helped Scherzer secure his Major League-leading 16th win of the season after throwing six scoreless innings in an 8-2, series-opening victory Nationals Park.
"Right now, Harper is playing baseball all the way around," said Nationals manager Dave Martinez. "Baserunning, hitting, not worried about hitting home runs. We tell him all the time, 'Yeah, you're going to run into one.' But he's playing baseball. And it's fun to watch him right now play."
It will take Harper and Scherzer staying hot -- and some additional help -- for the third-place Nationals to climb back into contention after grappling back above .500 on Friday night.
"Every game is huge at this point," Scherzer said. "We've got to win, and we've got to win a lot of games. When we come to the park, we've got to win every single day. That's just got to be our attitude."
Scherzer (16-5) has won six consecutive decisions. He took unlucky no-decisions in his previous two starts, allowing one combined earned run over 14 innings.
Harper, meanwhile, is now batting .400 (24-for-60) in August with 15 RBIs and five homers. Taking it back further, he's batting .370 with 25 RBIs and seven homers since the All-Star break.
The third-place Nationals (62-61) are seven games back of the Braves in the National League East and 5 1/2 back in the Wild Card race after Friday's victory. The win opens a crucial six-game division homestand that follows a 2-5 road trip to Chicago and St. Louis, in which Nationals relievers took defeats in three games.
That spectre made the seventh-inning, add-on run Harper drove in -- and the one he scored later in the inning -- crucially important.
"It gives the bullpen more room to breathe," said Scherzer. "Our offense did a great job tonight. … Up and down the lineup, guys just did winning things across the board, and you do enough small things, you win ballgames."
Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Wieters added solo homers as part of the five runs scored off right-hander Dan Straily (4-6), and Adam Eaton had three hits, including a bunt single and an infield hit.
Scherzer doubled and scored twice to help his own cause. On the mound, he struck out seven and allowed five hits and a walk on 96 pitches.
Harper drove in Scherzer in the third inning and doubled and scored the final run off Straily in the fifth. Then in the seventh, he dumped reliever Jarlin Garcia's 3-0 offering into right to plate Eaton.
HE SAID IT
We control what we do, and we've got to win. If we don't win, then it [doesn't] really matter. -- Harper, explaining why he isn't watching the out-of-town scoreboard
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Laying it down: The Nationals put down consecutive bunts during the bottom of the third. While Scherzer failed to advance his runner, bunting into a fielder's choice, Eaton made up for that with a perfect bunt down the third-base line for a single. That allowed Scherzer to advance into position to score from second when Harper singled two batters later.
Nearly hitting it out: His next time up, Scherzer turned on Straily's 2-1 offering on the inner corner and drove a double to the warning track on the fly, coming within approximately 15 feet of his second career home run. He scored easily when Eaton's double spilled out of the glove of diving center fielder Magneuris Sierra.
Legging it out: Harper caught Sierra napping in the bottom of the fifth inning, racing into second on a double hit directly in front of the Marlins center fielder. Harper then scurried to third on Straily's wild pitch and scored easily on Anthony Rendon's sac fly to left.
"I was thinking about it out of the box," Harper said. "I was trying to maybe catch him off guard, or wait until he released and try to sprint as hard as I could and take advantage of it."
Nationals left-hander Tommy Milone (1-1, 5.24 ERA) makes his fifth start of the season -- his second against the Marlins -- in a 7:05 p.m. ET affair at Nationals Park on Saturday. It was in Miami that he pitched his first big league game of 2018, allowing three runs over five innings in the Nationals' 10-3 win. Lefty Wei-Yin Chen (4-9, 5.32) goes for Miami.