"We'd sure welcome that production," manager Ned Yost said. "It'd be a big boost to have some consistency up and down our starting rotation."
McClung's secret to success was simplicity. He jumped ahead of batters with first-pitch strikes, and closed the door with well-placed throws.
It was the former reliever's first start in two years, and he said that in that time he's learned about the art of pitching.
"I attacked guys instead of getting greedy and going for strikeouts," he said. "That's probably unlike any start I've ever had in terms of getting ahead, staying ahead and being able to execute pitches."
Instead of getting into a contest with the radar gun, McClung said he was content to lose a little velocity but gain accuracy and control. The only pitch of the night he threw with everything he had was a 94-mph fastball to strike out Dmitri Young in the fourth inning.
The right-hander left the game after the fifth inning. He lobbied for extra time, but Yost had planned to keep him under 80 pitches in his first outing, and with the team protecting a one-run lead, Yost wanted to see McClung pick up the win, which he did.
Milwaukee's bats took the team the rest of the way. The Brewers picked up nine hits, and they were able to string them together to push runners around the bases.
"It's always good to get the easy ones," center fielder Mike Cameron said. "We struggled with that a bit early on."
Cameron unleashed the night's highlight, a solo home run that cleared the left-field bullpen. It was one of the longest home runs hit at Nationals Park since it opened in March.
Right fielder Corey Hart also had a home run, though his landed in the bullpen. The two power strokes complemented the Brewers' other runs, which were scored through sacrifice bunts and advancing runners.
"With all the weapons and talent on this team, there's so many ways we can score runs," Cameron said. "That's what we're looking for in terms of scoring these easy runs. The talent is here. We just haven't played up to it."
Yost said that Hart's home run was key, because it started the scoring in the fourth inning. Up to that point, pitcher John Lannan had been mistake-free. But he gave Hart two pitches in a row in the same spot, and Hart turned it into his fifth home run of the season.
"Lannan was really pounding the balls down at our knees," Yost said. "He wasn't making any mistakes. But Corey finally got to him."
Things got scary again in the ninth inning when third baseman Bill Hall made two fielding errors, each time costing the Brewers an easy out.
The first time, he tried to lunge for a ball that shortstop J.J. Hardy was already in position for.
"It was right at J.J.," Yost said. "You just have to have a little awareness as to where the rest of your fielders are."
Despite the setback, Salomon Torres was still able to end the inning by stranding the runners and denying the Nationals any runs. In closer Eric Gagne's absence, Torres has now stepped up twice in ninth-inning situations. Yost hasn't awarded him the closer title, but it's clear he's comfortable with Torres in the role.
He's also a fan of McClung, who will get another outing to try to duplicate his Saturday success. Even as he stumbled in the fifth inning and allowed a home run to Lastings Milledge, he mentally regrouped and came back with a strikeout to the next batter, Wily Mo Pena.
"To me, the biggest at-bat was the Pena one after the home run," McClung said. "You can't give up a home run and then give up a walk or another hit. I really felt that to get out of that inning with the lead was good."
A pitcher doesn't earn his spot in the rotation with 68 pitches, but McClung set the stage for future opportunities with his outing Saturday.
Michael Phillips is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.