ATLANTA (AP) - A woeful showing at the plate while losing two of three games to the Braves has left the Washington Nationals below .500 and with an embarrassing .229 batting average.
Davey Johnson hopes help is coming this week.
The Nationals managed only five hits in Sunday's 6-3 loss, and dropped 6 1-2 games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East.
The Nationals were held to only seven runs in the series.
``Half the ballclub is not doing things they're capable of offensively,' Johnson said. ``I look up there, a bunch of guys are hitting .150. There's too good a quality of players here to be doing that. I'm sure we'll pick it up. It's just a tough time.'
Second baseman Danny Espinosa, who was 0 for 2, is hitting .158. Jhonatan Solano, who started at catcher, also was held without a hit and is at .118. Steve Lombardozzi (.231) and Adam LaRoche (.243) are below .250.
The Nationals (28-29) fell below the break-even point for the first time since they were 13-14 on April 30.
``We deserve to be where we're at right now,' LaRoche said. ``And we're still not in awful shape.
``That only goes so far. We're pretty deep into the season, so we've got to get it going or we won't be there at the end. I don't sense any panic, anybody stressing over it, but it'd be nice to pick it up.'
Johnson said the team's sagging offense could get a lift as outfielder Jayson Werth is expected to come off the 15-day disabled list for Tuesday's start of a home series against the Mets. Werth has been out since May 3 with a right hamstring injury.
``There's still plenty of time,' Johnson said. ``We can right the ship and get things going in the right direction. We've still got plenty of time.
``The offense is just sputtering a little bit. It'll be good to get Jayson back. ... That'd be a shot in the arm.'
Ian Desmond hit a homer for Washington in the sixth inning to cut Atlanta's lead to 4-3. Freddie Freeman answered with a bases-loaded, two-run double in the bottom of the inning.
Ramiro Pena and B.J. Upton hit home runs and Paul Maholm won his third straight decision.
Atlanta is 15-6 against NL East teams, including 7-3 against the Nationals.
``It's big,' said Upton of winning the series against the Nationals. ``We know they're a team that's going to be around all year. They have a good ballclub. It's good to win games against a team like that.'
Maholm (7-4) allowed three runs, two earned, on five hits in six innings. Craig Kimbrel pitched a perfect ninth for his 17th save.
Washington rookie Nathan Karns (0-1) gave up four runs on seven hits in 4 2-3 innings. Karns allowed two homers. He has given up four homers in his two starts but drew praise from Johnson.
``Karns did a good job,' Johnson said. ``I thought he threw the ball better than he did (in his first start). He was getting near that pitch limit where we didn't want to do too much. But he had a great ballgame.
``It's a good-hitting ball club and he made a lot of good pitches.'
Washington rookie Erik Davis pitched 1 2-3 perfect innings in his debut. He was called up on Saturday when outfielder Bryce Harper was placed on the 15-day disabled list with bursitis in his left knee.
``The first time out, he looked great,' Johnson said of Davis. ``So that's two good signs.'
Upton, who had the game-winning hit in the Braves' 2-1 win over the Nationals in 10 innings on Saturday night, hit a second-inning homer off Karns to give Atlanta a 3-2 lead.
The Braves led 2-0 before Karns recorded an out. Ryan Zimmerman's 10th error on a wild throw to first allowed Andrelton Simmons to reach base. Pena hit Karns' next pitch about five rows deep into the right-field seats for his third homer.
Washington tied the game with two runs in the second. LaRoche doubled and moved to third on Ian Desmond's bunt single. Tyler Moore's single drove in LaRoche. With two outs, Karns hit a grounder to Freeman at first base. Maholm dropped Freeman's toss to first base for an error as Desmond scored.
Karns was pulled after giving up a single to Justin Upton and a two-out walk to Evan Gattis in the fifth. Brian McCann's single off Zack Duke drove in Upton for a 4-2 lead.
Desmond's seventh homer cut the lead to 4-3 in the sixth before Freeman's bases-loaded double off Duke in the bottom of the inning pushed the lead to three runs.
NOTES: The Braves held out slumping right fielder Jason Heyward, who struck out in each of his three at_bats on Saturday night, leaving his batting average at .142. Justin Upton moved to right field and Gattis started in left field. ... B.J. Upton made back-to-back starts for the first time since May 21-22. ... The Braves open a three-game series against Pittsburgh on Monday night as RHP Kris Medlen, still looking for his second win, faces RHP A.J. Burnett. The Nationals, off on Monday, return home to open a series against the Mets on Tuesday night when RHP Jordan Zimmermann faces RHP Jeremy Hefner.
The Associated Press News Service
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