WASHINGTON — A new half of the season began with the same old frustrations for the Washington Nationals.
Andre Ethier homered off Rafael Soriano to lead off the ninth inning and the Nationals went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position Friday night in a 3-2 defeat to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Washington resumed play after the All-Star break by losing its sixth game in its last eight, falling into third place in the NL East for the first time since June 8, a half-game behind Philadelphia and seven back of Atlanta.
The Nationals again wasted a strong start from Stephen Strasburg, who allowed two runs over seven innings, retiring the last 11 batters he faced.
Washington has scored three runs or fewer in all but four of Strasburg's starts, and overall has scored two runs or fewer in 42 of 96 games this season.
Strasburg's ERA dropped to 2.97 to go with his 5-7 record.
"It leaves a tough taste in your mouth," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "Stras pitched a heck of a ballgame."
Ethier pulled a 1-2 slider just over the wall in right-center, his sixth homer of the year and the second ninth-inning homer allowed by Soriano (1-2) in three appearances.
Hanley Ramirez homered in both runs off Strasburg in the third inning, helping the Dodgers win for the seventh time in nine games and move back above .500. They were 12 games below the break-even mark on June 21.
"I thought it was a good pitch," said Strasburg, who watched as the Dodgers shortstop went the opposite way with a 95 mph fastball over the outside edge of the plate. "That's a guy that's hot right now, and he guessed right. Oh well, I mean, tip your cap."
Bryce Harper scored on a wild pitch in the second inning after he got a favorable call when he tagged up from second base on a fly ball to right. And the Nationals tied the game at 2-all on Ian Desmond's RBI single in the sixth, chasing Dodgers starter Ricky Nolasco.
But that came after Washington failed to break it open when it loaded the bases with two hits and a walk in the fourth.
Desmond hit a soft grounder for a forceout at home, Chad Tracy flied out to shallow left, Wilson Ramos hit a comebacker to end the inning, and the crowd booed yet another bout of poor situational hitting by the home team.
"You get a guy on the ropes like that, you've got to capitalize," Tracy said. "Everybody's here to watch us score runs and win ballgames."
Ronald Belisario (4-5) faced only one batter to get the win, his 14th consecutive appearance without a run allowed. Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth for his 10th save.
Nolasco, in his third start with the Dodgers, gave up two runs over 5 1-3 innings against the same club that beat him 2-0 on opening day when he was with the Miami Marlins.
Notes: Johnson said he's "not hopeful" that LHP Ross Detwiler will return from the disabled list and start Tuesday as originally planned. Detwiler has been dealing with a lower back strain and was feeling sore Friday after throwing on flat ground Thursday. Taylor Jordan will remain in the rotation until Detwiler is healthy. ... Washington 1B Adam LaRoche sat out the game with flu-like symptoms. Tracy took LaRoche's spot in the lineup. Johnson said he will move Harper back to the leadoff spot when Adam LaRoche returns.