WASHINGTON -- The second half of the 2013 season started for the Nationals on Friday night at Nationals Park, and it felt like the first half was still in session. The Nats had problems scoring runs again and were edged by the Dodgers, 3-2.
Washington is now 48-48, falling into third place, a half-game behind the Phillies and seven games behind the first-place Braves in the National League East.
The score was tied at 2 when Los Angeles scored the winning run in the ninth inning against closer Rafael Soriano. On a 1-2 slider, Andre Ethier hit a home run over the right-field wall to give the Dodgers the one-run lead.
Soriano was throwing fastballs away from Ethier for most of the at-bat, but the last pitch to Ethier was a slider on the inside part of the plate and Ethier was able to golf it out of the park.
"Slider right there in that count. I wouldn't say I was looking for it -- just a tough two-strike count approach right there," Ethier said. "[I] was up there just trying to battle, get on base any way I can, get that inning started for us. He left a slider high enough where I could put a good swing on it and get it up in the air and find a way over that fence."
Right-hander Stephen Strasburg was the antithesis of his last start against the Marlins. He pitched seven innings and allowed two runs on seven hits. Los Angeles scored its two runs in the third inning, when Hanley Ramirez hit a two-run homer over the right-center-field wall for a 2-1 lead.
"Stras pitched one heck of a ballgame," manager Davey Johnson said. "He made one mistake to a hitter. It was fastball over the plate. He crushed it. But [Strasburg] pitched good enough for us to win."
But Washington would tie the score at 2 in the bottom of the sixth inning against right-hander Ricky Nolasco. With runners on first and third and one out, Ian Desmond blooped a single to center field, scoring Ryan Zimmerman.
The Nationals should have scored more runs off Nolasco. Their best chance came in the fourth inning. They had the bases loaded with no outs, but came up empty as Desmond grounded out to third baseman Juan Uribe, who was able to get the force at home.
Chad Tracy followed and flied out to left field, but it wasn't deep enough for Bryce Harper to score, and Wilson Ramos grounded out to Nolasco to end the threat.
"It [stinks]. You try to get guys on and score some runs," Harper said. "Getting bases loaded with no outs is a huge situation. We couldn't capitalize. Hopefully we can come back tomorrow, get something going and score early."
One can imagine how Johnson felt after his team didn't score in the fourth.
"That was real frustrating. Desi has been swinging the bat real good. He got a little anxious when he had a check swing on a breaking ball," Johnson said. "We didn't hardly drive in any runs. We swung the bats pretty good. It leaves a tough taste in your month."
After Sunday's 5-2 victory over the Marlins, Johnson announced that he was going to stick with a lineup that had Harper as the leadoff hitter and Denard Span hitting seventh.
But Friday's lineup was similar to what the manager put out there during the first half. Span was hitting leadoff and Harper was hitting cleanup. It didn't help that first baseman Adam LaRoche was not in the lineup because he had a bad case of the flu.
Johnson said he wanted to space out his left-handed hitters against a Dodgers bullpen which has strong left-handed relievers.
Once LaRoche is able to perform, Harper will go back to being the leadoff hitter.
"Whatever Davey wants to do. It's up to him. He makes the lineup," Harper said. "I'll try to have good [at-bats]. We have [Zack] Greinke tomorrow. We have a lot of work ahead of us. Hopefully we'll get things going and try to get some runs."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.