Notes: Ayala steady in return from injury

Notes: Ayala steady in return from injury

WASHINGTON -- After missing a full season due to reconstructive surgery on his right elbow, Nationals reliever Luis Ayala has made a nice comeback this season, pitching in 31 games, while sporting a 3.31 ERA. Opponents are hitting .259 against him as well.

Ayala acknowledged that it was tough to come back from the surgery and show that he could be a valuable pitcher again.

"It was hard for me mentally. It was hard for [my] confidence. It's hard to play at this level," Ayala said. "But the thing is, I feel good. I'm staying close to the strike zone."

The Nationals have not made it a secret that they are babying Ayala's arm this year. He has pitched in back-to-back games only six times this season. The righty has felt so good this year that he wanted to pitch in three consecutive games, but both manager Manny Acta and pitching coach Randy St. Claire balked at that request, feeling the team could wait until next year when Ayala's arm is even stronger.

"He has been doing well," St. Claire said. "Anything we could get out of him [this year] is great. His delivery is still out of whack. He is not as consistent as I think he would like to be. He gets on the side of the ball more than we want him to. His velocity is getting better."

Stat of the day: Entering Monday's action, the Nationals are 11-16 in two runs games.

Did you know: Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has seven game-ending RBIs since the beginning of the 2006 season. The most recent game-winner came on Sunday against the Giants.

Coming up: The Nationals play the second game of a three series against the Marlins on Tuesday night at 7:05 p.m. ET. Washington right-hander Shawn Hill will face Florida southpaw Dontrelle Willis.

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