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WSH@ATL: Desmond crushes a solo homer to left field

ATLANTA -- Don't tell the Washington Nationals what they're not doing. They know.

They also believe it won't be long until they do what they're supposed to -- get healthy bodies back and start hitting.

The lack of both was obvious on Sunday at Turner Field, as the Nationals managed only five hits for the second straight game and lost to the Braves, 6-3.

"We've got a bunch of guys hitting .150. There are too many quality players here to be doing that," said manager Davey Johnson. "I'm sure we'll pick it up. It's just a tough time. We're just not getting it done."

The loss was Washington's third in four games, and dropped the Nationals 6 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East. They left town below .500 (28-29) for the first time since April 30, the last time they left Atlanta.

"We deserve to be where we are right now," said first baseman Adam LaRoche, who had a double leading off Washington's two-run second inning, which tied the game. "We've got to get it going or we won't be there in the end. I don't sense any panic, anybody stressing over it, but it would be nice to pick it up a little.

"I don't feel like it was that sloppy this series or we missed a lot of opportunities," he added. "We just didn't have a ton of guys on base."

Washington managed 10 hits over the series' final two games after getting nine on Friday; it was 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position, with two of the hits coming Sunday.

Nationals pitchers did a good job of keeping the team in the game, especially youngsters Nate Karns, who was making his second Major League start, and Erik Davis, who was called up Saturday and made his Major League debut.

Karns (0-1) allowed a pair of early home runs but hung tough. He was charged with four runs (three of them earned), on seven hits, in a career-best 4 2/3 innings. He threw 88 pitches, 58 for strikes.

"I'm continuing to grow up here and be able to become more of what my game is," Karns said. "It's nice that I'm making progress, but I'm still not satisfied. I want to get a 'W' for these guys every time I'm out there."

Karns, who has allowed two homers in each of his two Major League starts, got burned by leaving fastballs too far over the plate to third baseman Ramiro Pena in the first then center fielder B.J. Upton in the second. The homer by Pena compounded a Ryan Zimmerman throwing error -- the team's first fielding miscue in six games -- and put Washington in an early 2-0 hole.

The homer to Upton also hurt, as it followed Washington's game-tying rally in the second.

"At times, all of [my pitches] were working, at times, all of them were not," said Karns. "I just need to be more consistent and just go from there."

Paul Maholm (7-4) continued to frustrate the Nationals. The Braves' lefty went six innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits, striking out four in improving to 2-1 with a 1.70 ERA (four earned runs in 21 2/3 innings) against Washington this year. He did not walk a batter, although he did hit second baseman Danny Espinosa in the fourth inning.

The Nats, who had scored two runs in 15 2/3 innings against Maholm in the lefty's two previous 2013 starts against them, matched that total in the second inning.

LaRoche started the rally by lacing a double into the right-field corner. After shortstop Ian Desmond reached on an infield hit, Tyler Moore took advantage of an opportunity to start, golfing an ankle-high breaking ball into left for an RBI single.

With two outs in the inning, Karns reached on an error by Maholm, dropping a feed that would have ended the inning, allowing Desmond to score.

The tie was short-lived, as Upton hit his fifth homer of the season out to left with one out in the second.

Washington's only other run came in the sixth, when Desmond, who was 2-for-4 with two runs scored, took a 2-2 hanging breaking ball out to left for his seventh homer of the season and Washington's first of the series. The roundtripper extended Washington's Major League record for consecutive series with at least one homer to 75.

But the offense dried up following Desmond's homer, as Braves pitchers retired the final 10 Nationals hitters they faced and 16 of the last 17.

Atlanta added two runs in the sixth, taking advantage of wildness by lefty Zach Duke. Duke walked the bases loaded (the last one was intentional) then surrendered a booming opposite-field double to first baseman Freddie Freeman which hit the yellow line on the top of the wall in left-center field. A video review upheld the ruling that it was not a home run.

Davis, called up Saturday from Triple-A Syracuse, had a successful Major League debut, throwing 1 2/3 perfect innings of relief, recording two strikeouts in relief of Duke.

The Nationals head home, getting a day off Monday, then getting Jayson Werth back on Tuesday when they open a series at Nationals Park against the New York Mets.

"It'll be big just having him in there," said LaRoche of getting Werth back. "You always hear about guys and just their presence in the lineup. He's a guy that can wreak some havoc on the bases, a great defender and he has a knack for getting on base. That's what we need right now."

Desmond feels the return of Werth will begin the return to better days, days of a year ago.

"We're a good ballclub," Desmond said. "Obviously, we're weathering this storm and eventually it's going to get good, and it's going to be real fun. Everybody's going to be back out wearing their red and cheering 'Natitude.'"

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