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09/13/10 6:15 PM ET

Slaten returns following suspension

ATLANTA -- Lefty Doug Slaten was back in the bullpen Monday night against the Braves after serving his three-game suspension as part of an altercation with the Marlins on Sept. 1.

Slaten dropped his appeal Friday and missed the weekend series with Florida in Washington.

"It had been a long time since I'd watched a game from the stands like a fan," Slaten said. "It's good to get the suspension over with so I can get back to work."

The left-hander had pitched just once while awaiting a potential hearing, working an inning at Pittsburgh on Sept. 4. He was ejected and later suspended for hitting a batter in Florida.

Coming into the Atlanta series, Slaten is 1-0 with a 2.35 ERA over 16 appearances since July 24. He is 4-1 with a 3.22 ERA in 42 appearances for the season.

Desmond, Espinosa form solid DP combo

ATLANTA -- Nationals manager Jim Riggleman has been holding some early sessions before games with Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, likely Washington's double-play combination for years to come.

Desmond is having a banner season at shortstop in his first full season in the Majors, and Espinosa has quickly adapted to second base since being promoted to the Nats at the start of September.

"They work together good," Riggleman said before the start of a three-game series with the Braves on Monday night. "They are both so athletic that they really complement each other."

But Espinosa hadn't played anything except shortstop until getting time at second base with Triple-A Syracuse in August.

"I think most people who have primarily played short can play second, but not everyone," Riggleman said. "He's really taken to it well."

The transition has been smoothed in part by Desmond, who came up to the Majors in September a year ago just like Espinosa this season. Although just a year older at 24, the shortstop has become a mentor.

"Ian's got great leadership qualities and he's not afraid to speak up," Riggleman said. "Espinosa is a little quieter and all ears. It's great stuff."

When Espinosa arrived at Turner Field on Monday, he found his locker next to Desmond. It wasn't arranged that way by accident. They are starting to bond.

"He came up at the same time and at the same age last season," Espinosa said. "He can relate to exactly what I'm going through and he helps me a lot. I think we're building a good relationship on and off the field.

Espinosa was 9-for-16 with three doubles, three homers and 10 RBIs in his first five games. But since going 4-for-5 with two homers and six RBIs against the Mets on Sept. 6, Espinosa was hitless in his past 14 at-bats entering the Braves series.

"The adjustment that he is going to be making constantly is with the bat against Major League pitching," Riggleman said. "That's a longer process than the transition to second base."

Dunn bats fifth, Zimmerman in cleanup spot

ATLANTA -- With his team in a five-game losing streak, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman shook up the middle of his lineup for the opener of the Braves series Monday night.

Adam Dunn was dropped to the fifth spot as Ryan Zimmerman hit cleanup and Roger Bernardina got a shot in the No. 3 slot.

"We're just changing it up a little bit," Riggleman said.

Riggleman admitted that in a perfect world, Zimmerman would hit third and Dunn fourth. But the Nationals needed something to light a spark and this way they could split left-handed hitters while having more speed in the first four spots.

"We did it for about a week straight a little while back," Riggleman said. "We were struggling and went to that lineup. It spurred us on a couple days. I'm just hoping it does something like that again. ... Maybe we can get a rally going this way."

Potomac lone Nats club left in playoffs

ATLANTA -- Potomac was left to carry Washington's postseason hopes in the Minor Leagues after Harrisburg was eliminated by Altoona in the semifinals of the Double-A Eastern League playoffs.

Potomac won three straight games against Frederick after an opening loss to advance to the Carolina League best-of-five championship series against South Division winner Winston-Salem. The P-Nats won the North Division in the second half following a losing record in the first half.

Bill Rhinehart was 2-for-4 with a double and three RBIs as Potomac ripped Frederick 10-3 in the deciding game Saturday night. Catching prospect Derek Norris, who hit .333 in the series, scored twice and drove in a run while going 1-for-2 with two walks.

Harrisburg, which finished second in the Western Division during the regular season, won the opener of its best-of-five series with first-place Altoona, but then dropped three straight games.

Third baseman Josh Johnson hit .417 in the series and first baseman Chris Marrero, a first-round pick in the 2006 Draft, batted .294 with a homer and three RBIs.

Guy Curtwright is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.