Win is Cincy's sixth in last 24 games

CINCINNATI (AP) -- To a man, the Cincinnati Reds were thinking about Danny Graves while they learned to get along without him.

Slumping Jason LaRue had three hits off Esteban Loaiza,
including a solo homer, and the Reds recovered from the shock of losing their closer by beating the Washington Nationals 5-3 on Monday night.

A few hours before the game, the Reds designated their career saves leader for assignment, abruptly ending his eight-year stay in Cincinnati. Dumbfounded players sat by their lockers and stared at the floor.

"This is just like getting hit in the head with a shovel, basically," first baseman Sean Casey said. "Guys love Danny Graves. I don't know how it doesn't affect you a little bit

Left-hander Eric Milton (3-5), who hasn't pitched much better than Graves lately, settled his teammates by going a season-high eight innings and getting a pair of hits. Milton hadn't won since April 16, losing his previous four decisions.

Then, a bullpen without a proven closer got its first chance to show what it can do. David Weathers pitched the ninth for his 15th career save, striking out two and completing only the Reds' sixth victory in 24 games.

"The whole game was hard down there," Weathers said. "We missed him. He's no prima donna closer, getting there [in the bullpen] in the seventh or eighth inning. He was always there by at least the bottom of the first.

"He'll be tremendously missed. It was tough to sit out there, but once you get on the field, you've got to put it all out of your mind," he said.

It was the first save this season by a Reds pitcher other than Graves, who was 10-of-12 but had been hit hard lately, leading to the move. The rest of the bullpen had been 0-for-3 in save situations.

Manager Dave Miley doesn't plan to have a primary closer.

"We talked about looking at matchups. We'll use them all," Miley said. "We'll play it day by day."

The Nationals couldn't overcome an uncharacteristically poor performance by Loaiza (1-3), who gave up a season-high 11 hits and five runs in five innings. The right-hander hadn't given up more than three runs in any of his last eight starts.

"I left a lot of pitches right over the plate," said Loaiza, who shrugged it off as just a bad day. "The ball was just going right down the middle, and they made contact."

It quickly became apparent that he was in trouble and wasn't going to get much help -- a familiar predicament. Washington averaged 1.9 runs in his first nine starts, the second-lowest support for any pitcher in the majors.

"He wasn't as sharp as he usually is, but if we give him a little offensive support early, it could be a different situation," manager Frank Robinson said. "He's trying to be perfect out there and make perfect pitches."

The Nationals managed only six hits off Milton, but two of them were homers.

Nick Johnson hit a solo shot in the sixth. Brendan Harris, called up from Triple-A on Sunday night to replace injured Jeffrey Hammonds, had a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the seventh.

Milton, who gave up an NL-high 43 homers last season, has allowed 17 so far. The Reds' staff has given up 66 in all, most in the majors.

Heading into the game, the Nationals had only nine homers in May, tied with Oakland for fewest in the majors.

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, fired as the Reds' general manager in July 2003, sat behind the visitors' dugout and watched Loaiza have a tough time. Every Reds batter except Ken Griffey Jr. reached base during his five innings -- and Griffey had an RBI groundout.

Milton's second-inning single drove home the first run, and LaRue had an RBI single in the third. LaRue, who came into the game hitting .196, hit his second homer of the season in the fifth for a 5-0 lead.

Game notes
Bob Boone, one of Bowden's special assistants, was also at the ballpark. Boone was the Reds' manager in 2003, when he was fired along with Bowden during the ballpark's inaugural season. ... Nationals center fielder Brad Wilkerson's sore right forearm was examined Monday by Dr. Timothy Kremchek, who diagnosed an irritated nerve. Wilkerson is day-to-day. ... Right-hander John Patterson, bothered by back spasms, was also examined by Kremchek and got an injection in his
lower back. ... Right-hander Zach Day was hit on the right wrist by Griffey's liner in the sixth. X-rays were negative. ... LaRue's
homer was only the third allowed this season by Loaiza. ... Third baseman Joe Randa was scratched from the Reds' lineup because of a sore left foot. Infielder Ryan Freel was back in the lineup after missing three games with a stiff back.