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Bergmann looks good, but Nats fall

Bergmann looks good, but Nats fall

ATLANTA -- On Monday night, it was hard to ask Nationals right-hander Jason Bergmann to be the pitcher who dominated the Braves on May 14. In that game, he had a no-hitter through seven innings and struck out 10 batters.

Bergmann hasn't pitched since that night in Washington because of a sore right elbow and acknowledged it was tough to sit on the sidelines. The elbow didn't get better until Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the Reds' medical director, took fluid out of Bergmann's elbow on May 24.

"It's been tough watching other guys. Everybody has been doing so well and now I'm hoping that I can contribute again," Bergmann said.

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A little over a month and two rehab starts later, Bergmann was activated from the disabled list and faced the Braves again. This time, he wasn't the Bergman of May 14, but he gave up only one run in four innings in a 4-1 loss in front of 25,375 fans at Turner Field.

Bergman left the game after throwing 76 pitches in four innings. Manager Manny Acta said Bergmann would be on a limited pitch count.

"I think he did a good job. I think he threw the ball very well," Acta said. "He probably could have gone five if it wasn't for the [fourth inning]. He looked very nice and loose out there and I'm very happy."

Bergmann said he felt good on the mound, but understood he had limitations. At no point during the game did Bergmann feel rusty, thanks to his rehab starts.

"If it were any other day, I would have been glad to go back out in the next inning, but my pitch count was restricting me, but aside from that that, everything felt really good," Bergmann said. "I threw all my pitches well. It was pretty positive.

"That's what the rehab starts are for. They are here so you are confident when you come back up -- you are throwing your pitches when you want to. That's the whole point. That's why we have it."

It was a game in which the Nationals' pitchers, including Bergmann, could not contain Braves catcher Brian McCann, who hit .213 in his previous 45 games entering Monday's action.

The lone run off Bergmann was scored in the fourth, when McCann singled to left field to drive in Edgar Renteria. On a 1-2 pitch, catcher Brian Schneider was looking for Bergmann to throw the ball in on McCann, but Bergmann wanted to throw the ball on the outer part of the plate. Bergmann was able to get his way and it proved costly.

"I didn't want to get beat on the pull side because McCann is a good hitter and you have to be selective," Bergmann said. "Maybe that pitch got too much of the plate. You look back, I shook off Schneider. Aside from that, it was not like I was missing my spots."

With Billy Traber on the hill, the Braves made it a 4-0 game in the sixth. With one out and Edgar Renteria on second base, Traber fell behind to Andruw Jones, 3-0. Acta then decided to walk Jones intentionally and bring McCann to the plate.

"I knew they weren't going to give Andruw anything to hit," McCann said. "You play the numbers, I'm not hitting that good against lefties this season. You have to play the percentages, and Andruw Jones is a dangerous hitter."

It was the perfect matchup for the Nationals -- lefty vs. lefty -- but McCann won the battle as he hit a 2-1 pitch over the right-field wall for a three-run homer.

"We missed location on [Traber's] curveball. We were going to throw breaking balls to lefties," Schneider said.

Braves right-hander Tim Hudson took advantage of the run support and pitched seven solid innings, giving up one run on seven hits. He struck out nine and walked none. The lone run was scored in the seventh, when Schneider drove in Austin Kearns with a single to left.

"Hudson was tough, down in the zone. The only chance you have against him is when he elevates the ball, but we haven't seen it this year. He was very tough on us," Acta said.

It doesn't seem to matter who the Nationals face, as the offense has been spotty and the major reason they have a 32-44 record. In particular, players such as Ryan Zimmerman, Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez have not produced lately.

Of all the players in the starting lineup on a regular basis, only Dmitri Young and -- before he got hurt -- Cristian Guzman have been consistent at the plate.

"We have been spotty," Schneider said. "One day, we'll score six or seven runs, but you can't expect to have great games against the likes of Hudson. But we have given John Smoltz a couple of losses, we gave Cole Hamels a loss, we gave Johan Santana a loss. Games we are not supposed to be winning, we are winning. It goes to show that we are scrappy."

Bill Ladson 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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