LOS ANGELES -- The Nationals didn't have an answer for right-hander Chad Billingsley after the first inning, as they lost to the Dodgers, 3-1, at Dodger Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The start of the game looked promising against Billingsley. The Nationals loaded the bases in the first and Michael Morse singled to left field with no outs to score Roger Bernadina. That would be the last hit for the Nationals.
"We should have [broken it open] in that first inning," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "We couldn't put the ball in play with nobody out, and that hurt us. And then Billingsley settled down and pitched an effective ballgame. We swung and missed a lot today. I thought we were going to bust it open in the first inning. We had the right guys up."
After the Morse at-bat, Billingsley dominated. He would strike out the side in the first and end up with 10 strikeouts. Relievers Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra combined to record three more strikeouts.
"Billingsley reached down deep inside himself, found some guts and battled for seven innings. He had no hits after that first inning," Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond said. "He dug down deep, and his team bounced back and they responded in that first inning, scoring a couple of runs, getting the lead and I think he got a little confidence back."
"I'm trying to get a groundball and get a double play, make one pitch and get two outs," said Billingsley about the first inning. "It worked out -- not that way, but that's the way it goes. Everything felt good today. You don't get that feel often. I had to grind through that first inning. But after that, I knew that was all they were going to get. I knew I had pretty good stuff."
Nationals right-hander Jason Marquis wasn't as effective. Los Angeles ended up responding in the first when Aaron Miles drove in two runs with a single to center field to take the lead.
Los Angeles added to its lead in the third inning, when Rafael Furcal scored on a groundout by James Loney.
Marquis would go on to pitch six innings, allowing three runs on five hits.
"It was a battle," Marquis said. "I was trying to keep my team in the game as best as possible. I had some unfortunate breaks. That's the way the game goes. ... We just weren't able to break through."
The Nationals ended up going 3-6 during their first road trip after the All-Star break. Desmond believes the team was flat after its time off.
"Compared to our standards, or standards of the owner, GM, manager or anybody else, we are letting a lot of people down, right now. We have to do better than this," Desmond said. "Me personally, I think that the energy is down. We are not playing the same brand of baseball we were when we came out of the gates in the beginning. My opinion, I think we are a little bit flat. We have to get some kind of spark."
The road trip was the team's biggest chance to prove it could win on a consistent basis. But the Nats ended up losing two games apiece to the Braves, Astros and Dodgers. Houston and Los Angeles were two teams that had records under. 500.
"I had high hopes coming out. A lot of the guys did," Johnson said. "We're just not getting it done. "We just didn't swing the bats when we needed it. We'll get it right. We go home, do some home cooking and we'll be fine."
It may be tough to win at home, as the Nationals play their division rivals -- Marlins, Braves and Mets -- before going on the road again.
"I like playing within our division against good teams," Johnson said. "We seem to rise to the occasion. It seems like the better teams we play, the better we play. Hopefully, we'll get a little home cooking."
The Nationals dropped to 49-52 overall, and 9-14 under Davey Johnson.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He can also be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.