CLEVELAND--Former Washington Nationals outfielder Austin Kearns spent much of the last two years of his tenure in D.C. injured, with a thumb so sore he had trouble gripping the bat, much less able to make good contact.  It was a reaggrevation of an old injury sustained when he played with the Cincinnati Reds.

Wanting to be a good soldier, and to justify the hearty contract former general manager Jim Bowden gave him, Kearns continued to play through the pain, to his--and the team's--detriment.

Kearns had his contract bought out by the Nationals in the off-season, and landed at spring training as a non-roster invitee with his former manager, Manny Acta, and the Cleveland Indians.

And as a quirk of interleague scheduling, Kearns had a chance Friday night in Cleveland to show the Nationals that he is now fully healthy--after surgery--and once again a productive major league hitter.

Kearns hit a pair of home runs, including a three-run shot in the bottom of the first inning against starter Luis Atilano, and the Indians buried the Nats 7-2, before a crowd of 22,041 at Progressive Field.

"It doesn't matter which team it is, I want to win, not just against them," Kearns said, when asked if it meant more to do this type of damage to his former team.

Atilano was not sharp in this one.  He pitched in trouble all night and threw 103 pitches in just five innings, only 58 of which were strikes.  He gave up six runs, three earned, on seven hits and two walks, striking out just three.  He surrendered three home runs, the pair to Kearns and a mammoth shot to Travis Hafner, which hastened his demise.

The first inning was a mess.  Atilano got leadoff hitter Trevor Crowe to bounce back to the mound for  the first out, but things fell apart quickly after that.

Shin Soo Choo singled up the middle, but was erased by a fielder's choice off the bat off Carlos Santana, Cleveland's top prospect, making his major league debut.

Slow-footed Russell Branyan then hit a ball right at Adam Kennedy, who booted the ball and everyone ended up safe.  Atilano then uncorked a wild pitch to move up both runners, before leaving a breaking ball out over the plate to Kearns, who deposited the pitch over the big wall in left field for his sixth home run of the season.

The rest of the game was almost immaterial, as the Nats never really put up much offensive resistance against Indians starter Jake Westbrook (W, 4-3, 7.1 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 5 K).  The top three hitters in the lineup, Nyjer Morgan, Ivan Rodriguez and Adam Dunn all had two hits apiece. 

But Ryan Zimmerman had an off night, and twice with two runners on and two outs, the silver slugger made the final out of the inning.

The loss drop the Nats record to 30-32, five games behind division-leading Atlanta.

The Nationals try to get back on track Saturday, sending J.D. Martin (0-1) to the hill to face Fausto Carmona (4-5) at 7:05 pm.


The Nats 4-5-6 hitters, Zimmerman, Josh Willingham and Willie Harris, combined to go 0-for-12.

Nyjer Morgan led the game off with a clean single, then was promptly thrown out stealing on the next pitch.

In his MLB debut, Santana went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.

Chris Perez pitched 1 2/3 for his sixth save of the season.

Washington had seven hits and four walks, struck out five times, and left six men on base.

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