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08/29/08 12:23 AM ET

Dodgers drop finale as Kershaw falters

Left-hander optioned to Triple-A after disheartening defeat

WASHINGTON -- Dodgers manager Joe Torre has talked all week about needing one big hit to win one big game that could snap Los Angeles out of a funk that gets worse by the day.

Manny Ramirez blasted a two-run homer to left field in the top of the first innning on Thursday that, sadly, gave the Dodgers their biggest lead of the road trip, but everything fell apart from there in an 11-2 loss to the Nationals.

"We just couldn't build on it," Torre said. "We didn't get many hits, and we obviously didn't pitch well."

The Dodgers dropped their seventh straight game on this East Coast trip to Philadelphia and Washington and 10th of 12 overall after recording just three hits the rest of the game while the pitching staff got hammered. Los Angeles has now lost nine straight on the road, its longest road losing streak since 1992.

Clayton Kershaw (2-5) was the main culprit this time around, throwing his second straight poor start on the road trip. He gave up five runs on five hits in 2 1/3 innings, with all the damage coming in a disastrous first that saw Kershaw give up the lead and three more runs in a rally capped by Elijah Dukes' three-run homer.

"Obviously, we get that two-run lead in the first inning, it's kind of the last thing you want to do is give up runs, especially that many," Kershaw said. "Everything went wrong tonight. It's pretty much as bad as it can get."

Torre saw Kershaw trying to overthrow the ball on a night he lacked command, throwing curveballs high and fastballs in the dirt. The veteran manager thinks that has something to do with the pressures on a 20-year-old rookie amidst the tension of the losing streak.

The left-hander said he rushed things a bit and never was able to find his rhythm.

In his past two starts, Kershaw has gone 0-2 with a 15.63 ERA over just 6 1/3 innings, putting a heavy strain on the bullpen.

That's quite a contrast from the 2-0 record and 1.45 ERA he compiled in five quality starts before the road trip, the first being an outing of six shutout innings against these same Nationals for his first Major League win.

"You've got to start with what got you here, and what got me here is locating my fastball and putting people away with my curveball, and not saying I've gotten away from it, but it just hasn't been working the way it's supposed to," Kershaw said. "It's pretty much what I'm trying to focusing on in my bullpen, just throw strikes with my fastball, get a good break on my curveball."

That bullpen session will take place at Triple-A Las Vegas since the Dodgers optioned Kershaw down after the game, not directly because of his performance but because of the strain it put on the Dodgers 'pen. The move was only made in order to add an extra reliever. The club intends to recall Kershaw in time for the youngster to make his next scheduled start.

Kershaw left 5 2/3 innings for the bullpen to pitch. Long man Jason Johnson only threw two-thirds of an inning because Torre pinch-hit for him with two runners on in the bottom of the fourth trying to get some offense in what was then a 5-2 game.

Ramon Troncoso came on in the fourth and threw 59 pitches in three innings to ensure the back end of Los Angeles' bullpen would be at full strength heading into this weekend's showdown at Arizona.

"Troncoso stepped up and sucked up some innings for us where we didn't have to go to [Chan Ho] Park, we didn't have to go to [Hong-Chih] Kuo, we didn't have to go to [Jonathan] Broxton," Torre said. "That was good for us."

The Dodgers' offense has suddenly gone stone cold. Los Angeles has scored more than two runs just once on this road trip, averaging a meager 1.7 runs. The Dodgers have also become overly reliant on the home run, scoring eight of their 12 runs via the long ball.

Trailing by just 3 1/2 games in the NL West with Arizona struggling this week as well, the Dodgers head to Phoenix for three games against the first-place D-backs searching for an end to this drought.

"We can only hopefully get better," said first baseman James Loney. "Hopefully, we can learn from some of the mistakes we've made."

Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.