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Dodgers held in check in loss to Nationals

Dodgers held in check in loss to Nationals

WASHINGTON -- In their first try with Manny Ramirez officially sidelined by a strained right calf, the Dodgers strained to get a single tainted run Friday night and lost to Luis Atilano in his Major League debut for the Nationals, 5-1.

Adam Dunn, Washington's cleanup hitter, slugged a pair of homers off knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, and that was all the slugging there would be.

The Dodgers' offense -- which came into the game leading the league in runs after scoring 28 in three nights in Cincinnati -- scored only one run on an A.J. Ellis groundout.

Matt Kemp, who came into the game either tied or leading the league in four offensive categories, went 0-for-4 and didn't get the ball out of the infield batting in Ramirez's cleanup spot. Garret Anderson, who started in left field for Ramirez, also was 0-for-4.

"It is what it is," Kemp said about the loss of Ramirez. "We've got to keep playing."

That's what the Dodgers did last year when Ramirez was handed a 50-game suspension for violating MLB's drug policy. They went 29-21 during that absence, 66-46 with him. Manager Joe Torre said this time is different and wouldn't use Ramirez's absence to explain why his club's offense was unplugged by a relative unknown.

"I'm not worried about that now. Last year was the acid test and we passed," he said. "Tonight was more a function of their pitcher, and we were behind in counts and not selective, and we swung at balls out of the strike zone.

"The youngster really did a good job of throwing strikes and changing speeds. We had some scouting reports on him and some video, but the fact he had so many strikes early in the count enabled him to do what he did, which was very impressive. He did a great job."

The only Dodgers run was set up by a double misplay from Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan on a routine fly by Ronnie Belliard that dropped for a single. Belliard had two hits starting at third base for Casey Blake. The loss left the Dodgers 7-9, three games out of first and 3-7 on the road this month.

It also left fifth starter Charlie Haeger winless after three starts, this one considerably better than his self-described "pathetic performance" against the Giants last weekend.

"No loss is good. That's the only way to look at it," said Haeger, who allowed Dunn's homer on a knuckleball leading off the fourth, and a two-run shot on a fastball following Belliard's throwing error with one out in the sixth inning.

Haeger said he threw more fastballs by design, particularly in the first few innings when he couldn't command his knuckleball. He agreed with Torre that he fell behind too many hitters, and second-guessed himself for throwing Dunn a fat fastball.

"I don't mind so much if I locate it, but I threw it right down the middle," Haeger said. "You can't throw a pitch like that to a hitter like that with power."

Dunn said two thoughts went through his head in the key at-bats.

"On the first home run, I went up there, I was going to basically jam myself and stay inside of [the ball]," he said. "The other one was to revert back to slow-pitch softball, minus the beer coolers in the dugout."

Torre expressed some degree of admiration for Haeger's grittiness. Haeger walked only one, compared to five in his previous start, but threw first-pitch strikes to only seven of 23 batters faced.

"He just needs to probably have a little bit better ratio of throwing strikes," said Torre. "It's a little bit of a high-wire act. You look up and he's only given up a run or two for five innings and kept us in the game, but we didn't give him anything to work with."

Haeger (0-2) figures to continue as the fifth starter, especially with James McDonald on the disabled list at Triple-A Albuquerque with two split fingernails.

The Dodgers were again victimized by two recurring themes -- errors and shaky relief.

Belliard's errant throw pulled James Loney off first base with one out in the sixth inning and was followed by Dunn's second homer, making one of the four runs charged to Haeger unearned. It was the 18th error of the year for the Dodgers' defense, last in the league, and their 14th unearned run.

Ramon Ortiz, who took over for Haeger, put out the sixth-inning rally with a double-play grounder. But he allowed a two-out RBI single in the seventh, and escaped a worse mess with a bizarre double play in the eighth after loading the bases by walking the first three hitters. Batter Willie Harris ended the inning by assuming he was out at first on a grounder to Loney and peeling off toward the dugout, although Loney instead threw home for the second out.

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

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