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NYM@WSH: Dickey earns 13th win with strong outing

If the New York Mets want to gain ground in the National League East, things need to turn around quickly. Thanks to a July to forget, New York entered a three-game series against the Nationals 8 1/2 games behind Washington for the division lead.

After losing the first game Monday, 8-2, in 10 innings, the Mets will send R.A. Dickey to the mound in the middle game of the series against the Nationals at Citi Field. Prior to this series against its division rival, New York was swept at home by the Dodgers to drop below .500 for the first time all season.

"There's no other way to put it -- we're not playing very well right now," catcher Josh Thole said on Sunday after being swept by Los Angeles. "Things are not going the way we want it to."

If there is anyone on the Mets' staff that could help turn things around, it's Tuesday's pitcher, Dickey. The knuckleballer led New York to its only win after the All-Star break heading into this series when he helped the Mets salvage one game in a three-game series in Washington last week.

Dickey bested the Nationals and Gio Gonzalez on July 19, and he'll get the opportunity to do it again Tuesday. Gonzalez lasted only 3 1/3 innings when the two faced off, giving up six earned runs on six hits and three walks.

The loss for Gonzalez was his second in a row since the All-Star break, and fourth in his last 10 starts. Gonzalez has seen his ERA rise from 2.04 to 3.32 in that 10-game span.

"You gotta learn you're gonna hit some patches once in a while," Gonzalez said after he lost to the Mets in his last start. "Especially a good team like that, where they swing the bat and they do a great job doing it."

"Gio's a good pitcher," Dickey said after that game. "So going into the game, you think, 'OK, I might get two or three [runs], but I'm not going to get any more than that.' As a pitcher, you know that you're going to have to be on point. So to get an early lead in the first was nice."

Mets: Dickey not as rested as usual
Dickey, won't be pitching on his usual rest schedule after making a brief appearance in the ninth inning against the Dodgers on Saturday. He threw 7 1/3 innings on Thursday and didn't get an extra day of rest for helping out in relief. With a depleted bullpen, the Mets were forced to call upon Dickey despite starting a couple days earlier.

"I salute him for going in there," manager Terry Collins said afterward. "It's certainly something he's not used to doing. But that's the kind of guy he is, 'If you need me, I'll be there for you.'"

Dickey cruised through the first two batters in the relief outing, recording two outs on four pitches. But he then ran into trouble by giving up a bloop single to James Loney and a two-run homer to Juan Uribe, two of the Dodgers' most offensively challenged players this season.

Dickey has 98 career relief appearances, mostly from his years playing in Texas, Seattle and Minnesota. In three seasons with the Mets, Dickey has been used as a starter, and his knuckleball has taken the league by storm this season. He has three appearances out of the bullpen since joining the Mets.

Nationals: Espinosa stepping up
With Ian Desmond hitting the disabled list with an oblique injury, the Nationals should be well prepared in his absence thanks to Danny Espinosa.

The shortstop has a nine-game hitting streak after going 1-for-5 on Monday, and he entered the current series with the Mets batting .414 with a homer, three doubles, a triple and five RBIs in his last eight games.

Espinosa will play shortstop regularly, with Steve Lombardozzi playing second base full time.

Lombardozzi posted a 13-game hitting streak from June 29-July 13, in which he hit .340. He went 2-for-5 with two runs in the opener against the Mets on Monday.

"Hopefully those two guys can kind of help pick up the slack," manager Davey Johnson said. "It's going to be hard, because [Desmond] was a mainstay in this lineup."

Worth noting
• Dickey has faced the Nationals twice this season and has pitched into the eighth inning both times.

• Gonzalez had only given up four home runs all season before his last start, when the Mets hit two off of him.

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