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Nail problem ruins Dickey's day

R.A. Dickey stood in front of his locker almost dumbfounded by the turn of events.

The fans had showered him with rousing cheers during pregame introductions, and he wanted to repay their loyalty by giving them a quality performance in the Mets' home opener at Citi Field.

But Dickey's second start of the season was anything but that.

Hampered by a cracked nail on his right index finger, the knuckleballer tied a career high in walks (five) and gave up three runs and six hits in only five innings in a 6-2 loss to the Nationals. It was only the fourth time in his 28 starts with the Mets that Dickey (1-1, 2.45 ERA) failed to pitch at least six innings.

"Tonight it was a real honor to be given that ovation, and it wasn't taken lightly," said Dickey, who last walked five batters on July 5, 2008, as a Seattle Mariner. "That's what makes it hurt all the more -- when I couldn't give back to them a quality outing. It makes me sick to my stomach when I can't go six innings or more. That's what I do."

Dickey said his nail likely snagged on a baseball seam when he threw an 80-mph knuckleball to Ryan Zimmerman in the first inning. He was forced to throw the next pitch much more slowly, but Zimmerman whiffed on his 62-mph offering to end the inning.

Between innings, Dickey said he filed down his nail as short as he could to prevent a tear to the cuticle. That, however, didn't help matters. "The knuckleball is such a feel pitch," he said. "When it comes out of your hands, there's just a unique feeling to that . . . But when you have to take the nail that close to the nailbed, you really don't have a fingernail to dig in. So it was fingernail on one finger and skin on the other finger, which just isn't a good recipe for a consistent knuckleball.''

Though he worked his way out of trouble in the first, the Nationals took a 2-0 lead on back-to-back walks sandwiched by two hits. Dickey walked back-to-back batters in the third and walked home the third Washington run in the fifth.

Catcher Josh Thole said he was unaware of Dickey's nail issue in the first, but when he pressed his pitcher about their pitch selection, Dickey didn't waver.

"He said if he's going down,'' Thole said, "he's going down with his best."

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