AP Sports Writer
BALTIMORE (AP) - With one-third of the season completed, the Washington Nationals are an injury-plagued, .500 team.
If the Nationals don't get healthy soon, and if their inconsistent players fail to improve, manager Davey Johnson might be forced to shake things up.
Freddy Garcia pitched eight innings of three-hit ball to get the best of Dan Haren in a duel of veteran right-handers, and the Baltimore Orioles beat Washington 2-0 Thursday night.
The Nationals (27-27) lost three of four to their neighboring rivals in the home-and-home series that began Monday night. Washington hit the ball well in the middle two games, but totaled only two runs in the other two.
Garcia (2-2) was masterful, using his split-finger fastball to keep the Nationals guessing. The 36-year-old allowed three hits, walked none and struck out six.
"Tonight it was the simple fact that we got beat by a veteran pitcher," said Ian Desmond, who got one of Washington's three hits. "Freddy knew he had a good pitch working and he stuck with it."
The split-finger, quite simply, was virtually unhittable.
"That pitch was pretty unbelievable tonight, and he threw it a lot," Desmond said. "He must have thrown 60 percent split fingers, which is very out of the ordinary."
Manager Davey Johnson said of Garcia, "He kept us guessing with a lot of off-speed pitches, but we helped him out by swinging at some stuff out of the zone. That's young hitters. They're trying to make things happen and they're expanding the zone."
The loss dropped the Nationals 5½ games behind Atlanta in the NL East. The teams start a three-game series on Friday night.
Asked to assess the state of the club, Johnson replied, "Well, we need to get some guys back that are hurt. As far as some of these young guys that are struggling, we've got to make some changes. "
Haren (4-6) did his best, but it wasn't good enough. He gave up two runs and eight hits in 7 1-3 innings, striking out five and walking none.
"I threw the ball well, but obviously I'm not happy with the end result," he said.
Nick Markakis hit an RBI double in the third inning and Manny Machado doubled in a run in the eighth for the Orioles, but the big story was the 250- pound Garcia.
Making his sixth start for Baltimore, Garcia (2-2) struck out six, walked none and permitted only two runners past first base. He retired 17 of the first 19 batters he faced, including 14 straight after Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond each singled to open the second inning, and concluded his performance with seven consecutive outs.
Going up against team that scored 15 runs on Tuesday and Wednesday, Garcia was at his best.
"I just made some good pitches," he said. "They'd been hitting the ball real good last couple days. It's hot here in Baltimore and the ball flies, so you got to keep it down. "
Jim Johnson worked a perfect ninth for his 17th save, the second in two nights.
The pitching duel came after the neighboring teams combined for 35 runs, 65 hits and 14 homers in the previous three games.
The Orioles went up 1-0 in the third inning when Ryan Flaherty singled, took second on a single by Machado and scored on a two-out double by Markakis. Haren then struck out Adam Jones with runners at second and third.
Washington, meanwhile, got only one runner past first base in the first six innings. In the second, after the singles by LaRoche and Desmond, both runners advanced on a groundout by Tyler Moore. Chad Tracy followed with a short fly ball to left and Kurt Suzuki popped out.
That began Garcia's run of 14 successive outs. It ended when Roger Bernadina singled with two outs in the sixth, but Ryan Zimmerman followed with a harmless grounder to second base.
In the eighth, Nate McLouth hit a bloop to short right field and hustled into second for a double. Machado then chased Haren with a sharp grounder inside the third-base line, his league-leading 25th double.
NOTES: Baltimore's Chris Davis went 0 for 3, ending a run of eight games in which he got a hit and scored a run. He was 18 for 30 with six homers during that span. ... Stephen Strasburg will start for Washington on Friday night in Atlanta. ... Baltimore begins a three-game set against the visiting Detroit Tigers on Friday night. Miguel Gonzalez (2-2) will pitch for the Orioles, and the Tigers will start Max Scherzer (7-0). ... Nationals OF Jayson Werth (hamstring strain) began his rehab assignment Wednesday by playing three innings for Class A Potomac. He was expected to go five innings on Thursday. ... Orioles C Taylor Teagarden (dislocated thumb) will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Norfolk on Friday.
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