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CHC@WSH: Zimmermann fans nine over seven solid frames

For two teams in the midst of playoff contention, the Dodgers and the Nationals will meet this week trending in surprisingly different directions.

When the clubs begin a three-game set at Nationals Park on Tuesday, the Dodgers will be doing so without knowing the status of their workhorse, left-hander Clayton Kershaw. Initially slated to start in Sunday's pivotal series finale with the Cardinals, Kershaw was scratched with continued right hip pain that could end his season. As the team flies to Washington on Monday, Kershaw has a Tuesday appointment with Dr. Bryan Kelly in New York for a second opinion.

Kershaw's last start on Tuesday night, a seven-inning gem in Arizona, was postponed two days because of the hip inflammation.

The prospect of losing Kershaw for the season, nevertheless in the heart of the playoff push, is troubling. But after the Dodgers dropped Sunday's finale with the Cardinals, 5-2, in 12 innings, they fell one game behind St. Louis for the second National League Wild Card spot.

Right-hander Aaron Harang will start on Tuesday -- the first game of a nine-game trip for the Dodgers. Josh Beckett will start on Wednesday and Chris Capuano will take the mound on Thursday, but beyond that, manager Don Mattingly is holding off on setting the Dodgers' rotation.

"We'll just see," Mattingly said. "That is all going to be up in the air."

The Nationals, meanwhile, enter the series with a playoff spot all but secured, even after their three-game sweep at the hands of the Braves this weekend. Washington holds a 5 1/2-game lead over Atlanta in the NL East, and with their magic number for the playoffs at three, the Nationals could conceivably clinch their postseason spot in this series.

Dodgers: Harang starts series opener with Nats
• Harang has a 1.54 ERA (two earned runs over 11 2/3 innings) at Nationals Park in two career starts, a promising sign for the offensively challenged Dodgers. Los Angeles ranks 26th in baseball with 574 runs scored.

On the season, Harang is 9-9 with a 3.79 ERA. In his last start in Arizona on Wednesday, Harang took the loss after allowing three runs on four hits over 5 2/3 innings.

• The Dodgers are expecting to receive a boost to their bullpen this week, as closer Kenley Jansen and lefty Scott Elbert are both due back.

Jansen has been dealing with an irregular heartbeat and was placed on blood-thinning medication after his last outing on Aug. 27. Elbert, meanwhile, has been on the disabled list since Aug. 29 with left elbow inflammation.

Los Angeles' bullpen has made due without both relievers, entering Sunday by allowing just two runs in 19 2/3 innings since Sept. 8.

"They've been good," Mattingly said. "They've hung in there and they've kept us in a lot of games. They've done a great job so far."

Nationals: Zimmermann hoping for bounce-back start
• Jordan Zimmermann will take the mound for the Nationals on Tuesday hoping to begin a series with the Dodgers with only his second start longer than six innings since Aug. 9. Since that span, at which time the right-hander was considered a viable Cy Young candidate, Zimmermann's ERA has risen from 2.35 to 3.01, his WHIP from 1.06 to 1.17 and his batting average against from .238 to .252. Over those last seven starts, Zimmermann is 2-2 with a 5.06 ERA.

"I wasn't locating my fastball," Zimmermann said after his last start on Sept. 11, a 5-3 win over the Mets in which he earned a no-decision. "I was just missing by a little bit. I was a hair off with all the fastballs. The curveball and slider were great. I was having a hard time getting ahead with the fastball. I go ball one and it's going to be a struggle all night if I'm not able to throw a strike right away."

Worth noting
• The Dodgers enter this week's series with the Nats 3-0 against Washington this year.

• After three games against the Dodgers, the Nats' penultimate homestand of the season will continue with four games against the Brewers, suddenly only 2 1/2 games out of the second NL Wild Card spot after Sunday's games.

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