Results tagged ‘ Houston Astros ’

Daily Wrap: Strasburg named Opening Day starter, Detwiler talks bullpen, & more

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals fell to the Houston Astros, 2-0, on Wednesday night, despite a strong five-inning performance from Taylor Jordan and solid relief work from Ross Detwiler, Rafael Soriano and Tyler Clippard.

To the Daily Wrap…

News of the Day: Stephen Strasburg will be the Nationals’ Opening Day starter.

Stephen Strasburg was named the Nationals' Opening Day starter for the third straight year.

Stephen Strasburg was named the Nationals’ Opening Day starter for the third straight year.

Washington Nationals Manager Matt Williams announced Wednesday night that, for the third consecutive year, Stephen Strasburg will be the team’s Opening Day starter.

“He’s earned it,” Williams said after the team’s 2-0 loss to the Houston Astros. “He’ll toe that slab for us on Opening Day.”

This spring, Strasburg has allowed just one earned run in three starts while working on holding runners and incorporating a new pitch. He’ll make his fourth start of Spring Training on Thursday against the Detroit Tigers, and that start will line him up to be on turn for the Nationals’ March 31 opener at Citi Field against the New York Mets.

And while Strasburg was perhaps the expected choice, the uber-talented right-hander having done it the previous two years, Williams acknowledged that some of the other Nationals starters gave him pause before making the final decision. Jordan Zimmermann, a 19-game winner and an All-Star a season ago, was chief among them.

“We have a number of guys who could fill that position,” Williams said of the Opening Day honor. “But we spoke to Jordan and he’s good with pitching wherever and whenever. Opening Day is important, but the rest of the games are important, too.”

Quote of the Day: Ross Detwiler on taking a team-first attitude on his move to the bullpen.

Detwiler pitched a scoreless inning in relief on Wednesday night, the first step in his transition into the Nationals’ bullpen. Earlier in the day, the left-hander discussed the team’s decision with reporters, taking a team-first attitude to the move.

“I still view myself as a starter,” Detwiler said. “But I’m not going to go out there and hope somebody does bad or somebody gets hurt. We’re in it to win. And I think it’s going to hurt worse if we don’t win the whole thing this year.”

Video highlights:

Taylor Jordan strikes out five in five innings.

Ross Detwiler fans Jason Castro in the sixth.

Danny Espinosa makes a diving stop and shows off his throwing arm.

Notables:

Williams said Wednesday that right-hander Doug Fister, who pitched in a Minor League game on Monday, will return to the Major League rotation on Saturday against the Miami Marlins… Williams also said he expects the top of the Nationals’ rotation to feature Gio Gonzalez behind Strasburg and Zimmermann behind Gonzalez.

The Big Machine

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Stephen Strasburg was pitching, Ryan Zimmerman was playing third base, and all of the Nationals regulars were in the starting lineup for the first time truly in Spring Training Saturday night. Sure, the ballpark was about 40,000 people shy of what it will be when the 2013 regular season launches in Washington, but the exhibition season finally was beginning to feel like a reality.

Most of all, it meant that the Nationals are now just three turns of the rotation away from Opening Day in Washington, just 15 days from now.

The Nationals featured their full projected Opening Day lineup for the first time Saturday night.

The Nationals featured their full projected Opening Day lineup for the first time Saturday night.

Strasburg will start that game, just as he did Saturday night against the Astros. He delivered his second consecutive strong outing, just a taste of what he might unleash on the league in his first full season. In 5.1 innings of work, he fanned eight Houston batters – including four in a row at one point – allowing just a single run. Manager Davey Johnson extended him out to 93 pitches, easily the most thrown by a Washington starter this spring.

Afterwards, Johnson called Strasburg “The Big Machine,” helping support Strasburg’s own desires expressed earlier this spring to be thought of as a workhorse for this squad. He won’t be the only one extending his work over the next week, though, as Johnson made clear after the game that starters would all be expected to play the full nine innings beginning next week.

“It’s my time, boys,” he joked. “The party’s over.”

The game itself was, thankfully, still a Spring Training affair. From the wind-blown balls that escaped Bryce Harper and former National Rick Ankiel, to the drops by both Washington and Houston players, it was not the most cleanly played of contests. But when Ryan Zimmerman charged Carlos Corporan’s slow chopper up the third base line in the second inning – his first defensive attempt of the spring – picked it cleanly, and fired a bullet across the diamond to Adam LaRoche at first base, the crowd at Space Coast Stadium began to see flashes of the hopes of what this team will become.

“I can’t remember the last bad day,” said Zimmerman in reference to throwing, after slowly rebuilding his arm strength this offseason.

Those words should be music to every Nationals fan’s ears. The party may be over, but the fun is just beginning.

Check out the Nationals lineup as they head to Lakeland to take on Detroit, and see a complete list of Spring Training results to date:

Nationals Lineup:

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Lombardozzi 3B

3. Harper CF

4. Moore RF

5. Desmond SS

6. Suzuki C

7. Tracy DH

8. Marrero 1B

9. Owings LF

P. Detwiler LHP

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2

2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4

2/26 @ Atlanta – L, 9-5

2/27 vs. Miami – L, 5-1

2/28 vs. New York (NL) – T, 4-4

3/1 @ Atlanta – W, 6-5

3/2 @ St. Louis – W, 6-2

3/3 vs. St. Louis – W, 7-6

3/5 vs. Houston – W, 7-1

3/6 @ Philadelphia – L, 6-3

3/7 @ Houston – L, 4-2

3/8 vs. Cardinals – L, 16-10

3/9 vs. Marlins – W, 8-7

3/10 @ Detroit – L, 2-1

3/11 vs. Atlanta – L, 7-2

3/13 SS vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-5

3/13 SS @ Houston – W, 9-7

3/14 vs. Houston – W, 6-3

3/15 @ St. Louis – L, 5-1

3/16 vs. Houston – L, 4-2

Overall Record: 9-10-2

Big Names, Big Games

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On the day that Davey Johnson officially announced Stephen Strasburg would reprise his 2012 role as the Nationals Opening Day starter, it was the offensive half of Washington’s young power duo who made the in-game headlines. Bryce Harper homered and drove in four on Wednesday as the Nats took down the visiting New York Mets by a count of 8-5.

Jordan Zimmermann rebounded from the worst outing by any National this spring to return to his old self, quietly allowing just a single earned run over 4.2 innings of work while striking out six. Two early unearned runs kept him from factoring in the decision, as he fell victim to a pair of defensive miscues in the first inning. Chad Tracy couldn’t handle a tough backhand hop and Adam LaRoche uncharacteristically had a ball go through his legs, leading to a pair of Mets scores. But Zimmermann settled down to retire the next nine batters, and Washington’s four-run seventh inning proved to be the difference.

Harper and Rendon share the team lead with four home runs apiece.

Harper and Rendon share the team lead with four home runs apiece.

Meanwhile, an hour east-northeast in Kissimmee, a split squad comprised primarily of minor leaguers and non-roster invitees took on the Astros. Fittingly, Harper’s heir to the top Nationals prospect title, Anthony Rendon, was busy matching his team-high home run total. With two outs in the top of the eighth, Rendon sent an 0-2 offering out to the opposite field at spacious Osceola County Stadium – his fourth home run of the spring – to break a 5-5 tie, leading Washington to a 9-7, come-from-behind victory.

On Thursday morning, Washington announced its second round of cuts, trimming seven from the roster, down to 42 players. The most notable name on the list was Rendon, who will head across the fields behind Space Coast Stadium to Minor League camp along with fellow infielders Will Rhymes and Matt Skole, outfielder Eury Perez, catcher Sandy Leon, and pitchers Nathan Karns and Pat McCoy.

While cuts are an inevitable part of every camp, with the roster reduced once more, Nationals fans can anticipate seeing many of the familiar faces getting more playing time moving forward as we creep ever closer to Opening Day.

Here is Thursday’s lineup as the Nationals battle the Astros in Viera, along with a complete list of results to date:

Nationals Lineup:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman DH

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Ramos C

9. Lombardozzi 3B

P. Young

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2

2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4

2/26 @ Atlanta – L, 9-5

2/27 vs. Miami – L, 5-1

2/28 vs. New York (NL) – T, 4-4

3/1 @ Atlanta – W, 6-5

3/2 @ St. Louis – W, 6-2

3/3 vs. St. Louis – W, 7-6

3/5 vs. Houston – W, 7-1

3/6 @ Philadelphia – L, 6-3

3/7 @ Houston – L, 4-2

3/8 vs. Cardinals – L, 16-10

3/9 vs. Marlins – W, 8-7

3/10 @ Detroit – L, 2-1

3/11 vs. Atlanta – L, 7-2

3/13 SS vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-5

3/13 SS @ Houston – W, 9-7

Overall Record: 8-8-2

Launched Into Orbit

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This year’s Grapefruit League schedule pits the Nationals against the Houston Astros six times, providing a chance for former Washington third base coach and new Astros skipper Bo Porter to reunite and reminisce with his old players. They did just that on Tuesday at Space Coast Stadium, both sides praising one another as details emerged, such as the book club Porter orchestrates that counts over 20 members of the Nationals squad as members.

It’s pleasant to see the mutual professional respect between the coach and his former players, one made easier to show thanks to the exhibition nature of Spring Training. It is also, in all likelihood, the only chance the two will have to see each other this season.

The Astros have reintroduced Orbit for the 2013 season.

The Astros have reintroduced Orbit for the 2013 season.

See, the Astros are moving from the National League Central to the American League West this season, giving baseball an even 15 teams per league and five per division. The teams will not square off in the regular season until next year, when the NL East will be slated to face the AL West as part of Interleague Play.

As part of the move, the Astros have changed their uniform scheme to a retro navy and orange look, and have brought back their mascot Orbit, who, according to the team website, “hitched a ride on the space shuttle Discovery to visit his home back in the Grand Slam Galaxy” following the 1999 season. That brings us to the teams’ second meeting on Thursday, for which the furry green space cadet was in attendance.

Following the bottom of the fifth of a scoreless contest on Thursday, Orbit trotted out onto the field to help the promo team toss T-shirts into the crowd, but on his way from the gate by the home dugout onto the grass around home plate, he let his weight get out in front of him and he tripped, stumbling and falling to the turf. Upon gracefully picking himself back up, he was handed the T-shirt air cannon, from which he promptly fired a rolled-up souvenir a clear 20 feet over the roof of Osceola County Stadium and into the parking lot.

It was a moment of comedy, but also a reminder, in the midst of a fairly quiet and pedestrian game, of just how trivial the results of Spring Training really are.

Yes, Gio Gonzalez got a solid three innings of work in, limited under 50 pitches (he threw 42) based on World Baseball Classic guidelines for those already committed to pitch for the team. He tossed 23 more in the bullpen to get a little more stretched out before heading to Miami next Tuesday for his WBC debut.

But the biggest takeaway thus far from Nationals camp has to be the adage that no news is good news. Aside from the training staff taking a cautious approach with Christian Garcia, whose camp has been slowed by a week or two, it has been a healthy, uneventful spring. And that means we can revel in book clubs and mascot mishaps as we wait the final 24 days for Opening Day to arrive.

Here’s a look at today’s lineup and a list of Spring Training results to date:

Nationals Lineup

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Werth RF

3. Harper CF

4. Zimmerman DH

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Moore LF

8. Ramos C

9. Tracy 3B

P. Zimmermann

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2

2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4

2/26 @ Atlanta – L, 9-5

2/27 vs. Miami – L, 5-1

2/28 vs. New York (NL) – T, 4-4

3/1 @ Atlanta – W, 6-5

3/2 @ St. Louis – W, 6-2

3/3 vs. St. Louis – W, 7-6

3/5 vs. Houston – W, 7-1

3/5 @ Philadelphia – L, 6-3

3/6 @ Houston – L, 4-2

Overall Record: 5-5-2

The Zen of Dan Haren

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One of the fun aspects of Spring Training is getting to know the new players in camp. A baseball clubhouse is a mix of all types of personalities, and meshing them together can be a delicate balance. So as the new guys settle in, certain characteristics begin to emerge, like the introspective, self-awareness of new starter Dan Haren.

Haren absolutely baffled the Astros through two innings Tuesday, before allowing a walk and a pair of singles in a longer third frame, which would yield Houston’s lone run in a 7-1 Nationals victory. When asked about whether it may actually have been good for him to struggle a bit, Haren at first conceded that might indeed be true, the situation allowing him to get work throwing out of the stretch, and pitching a longer inning.

Haren has shown a keen self-awareness this spring.

Haren has shown a keen self-awareness this spring.

Then he paused, and broke down the barrier of clichés that so often comprise an athlete’s postgame comments.

“In Spring Training, if you do (well), you feel great,” he said. “If you feel bad, you’re just working on stuff. That’s what everyone says.”

He paused for the laughter of the reporter pool, before deadpanning his final thought.

“So yeah, I was just working on stuff in the third inning.”

That refreshing honesty, as well as a spot-on analysis of the way that athletes can sometimes revert to platitudes gives Nationals fans an early look at what to expect from the cerebral Haren this season.

Throwing only a single curveball and “two or three” split-fingered pitches, Haren has nonetheless dominated so far this spring, even while really only touching 60 percent of his repertoire. That’s good news for the 32-year-old, who says he feels completely healthy.

The Nationals also got three strong innings from Zach Duke on Tuesday, who allowed a single hit while holding the Astros scoreless to earn the victory. Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Jeremy Accardo – three of the four Nats in camp with a 30-save MLB season to their name (along with Drew Storen) – each pitched a scoreless inning of relief.

It’s off to Clearwater Wednesday for a marquee pitching showdown, featuring Stephen Strasburg against Roy Halladay and the Phillies. Check out the lineup, plus a complete list of Spring Training results to date.

Nationals Lineup:

1. Span CF

2. Lombardozzi 2B

3. Rendon SS

4. Moore DH

5. Brown RF

6. Marrero 1B

7. Rivero LF

8. Skole 3B

9. Solano C

P. Strasburg

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2

2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4

2/26 @ Atlanta – L, 9-5

2/27 vs. Miami – L, 5-1

2/28 vs. New York (NL) – T, 4-4

3/1 @ Atlanta – W, 6-5

3/2 @ St. Louis – W, 6-2

3/3 vs. St. Louis – W, 7-6

3/5 vs. Houston – W, 7-1

Overall Record: 5-3-2

Welcome Back, Wilson

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Most Spring Training camps are full of stories of roster battles, of a number of players competing for a lone spot among the 25 that will begin Opening Day in the big league uniform. The Nationals have been one of those clubs in the past, but sit in Viera this year with all but one or two of those roster spots decided. As such, the most compelling stories are those of the comeback variety, those like the story of Wilson Ramos, which, after a couple years of setbacks, had a positive chapter written over the weekend.

After enduring a terrifying ordeal in the offseason prior to 2012, Ramos was excited to move on with a breakout performance on the field last year. That hope was dashed when retrieving a ball behind the plate early last May, as his foot snagged in the wet Cincinnati grass but his knee followed his body’s momentum, tearing ligaments and ending his season. On Sunday, after months of rehab, of grinding, hard work, he finally stepped into a batter’s box in a game for the first time.

“I was a little bit nervous,” Ramos admitted. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a pitch from the mound.

Wilson Ramos is back behind the plate in game action for the first time Tuesday.

Wilson Ramos is back behind the plate in game action for the first time Tuesday.

One could forgive Ramos for being a little over-anxious in his first at-bat, entering as the DH in the seventh inning. He rolled a ball over to third base, testing his knee in action for the first time as he ran to first base. That seemed like it might be his only chance of the afternoon, but as the score leveled at 6-6, the Nationals batted again in the bottom of the ninth, with Ramos leading off. He battled through a tough at-bat, fighting out of an early hole and fouling off pitches, eventually forcing a full count. Then he blasted a high fastball to the right-center field gap, deep into the wind and almost gone to one of the deepest parts of Space Coast Stadium. He pulled in at second base with a double and a rousing round of applause from the home crowd.

Pulled for pinch-runner Sandy Leon, Ramos’ contribution would lead to the victory, as the Nationals would walk off with a 7-6 victory two batters later on Zach Walters’ RBI-single through the drawn-in infield. For Ramos, it was the first step back to doing what he loves.

“That’s a big step for me today,” he said. “Now I’m very excited and I want to be behind the plate.”

He got that chance Tuesday against the Astros, where he caught the first three innings of game action for the first time since last season.

Here’s a complete list of the Nationals Spring Training results to date.

Overall Record: 4-3-2

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2

2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4

2/26 @ Atlanta – L, 9-5

2/27 vs. Miami – L, 5-1

2/28 vs. New York (NL) – T, 4-4

3/1 @ Atlanta – W, 6-5

3/2 @ St. Louis – W, 6-2

3/3 vs. St. Louis – W, 7-6

Top 12 of ’12: #4 – “The Catch”

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Top 12 Number 4The game-ending walk-off is one of the most exciting plays in baseball, as evidenced by five Nationals walk-offs making our Top 12 of ’12 list to this point. A game-ending defensive gem, one that robs the opposing team of a walk-off hit, happens far less frequently. Roger Bernadina’s August 7 play – simply known as “The Catch” – was one such moment that Nats fans won’t soon forget.

Nine games into a stretch of 17 contests in 16 days, the last thing the first-place Nationals were hoping for was a second consecutive extra-inning affair with the 36-74 Houston Astros. But after needing a three-ring circus to end an 11-inning contest the night before, the Nationals and Astros took a 2-2 game into the 12th inning before Danny Espinosa singled home Cesar Izturis to give the Nats a one-run lead. Davey Johnson summoned Tyler Clippard to close out the game, but the righty ran into trouble after a leadoff single and a two-out walk put the tying and winning runs on base for Brett Wallace.

On the fifth pitch of their battle, Clippard grooved a fastball over the middle of the plate and the left-handed hitting Wallace barreled it up, driving the ball deep toward the wall in left-centerfield. With both runners on the move with two outs, the only thing separating Houston from victory was The Shark. Bernadina raced at full throttle toward the alley – then, in a gravity-defying instant, leapt, glove outstretched, and met the ball at its apex before disappearing behind a padded concrete pillar in front of the visitor’s bullpen. After a heart-stopping moment, Bernadina emerged with the ball securely in his glove while reliever Craig Stammen celebrated in the ‘pen behind him. The Nationals won the game, went on to sweep the series from the Astros and cemented “The Catch” as the signature defensive play of the 2012 season.

- SEE THE REST OF THE TOP 12 OF ’12 -

2012 Player Review: Roger Bernadina

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The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. We begin the list with everyone’s favorite selachimorph, Roger “The Shark” Bernadina.

The Curacao-born outfielder played in parts of four seasons for the Nationals before 2012, compiling a slash line of .242/.304/.364 in just under 900 plate appearances. His athleticism and flashes of superior defense gave fans hope that he might progress into a steady Major Leaguer, an evolution that finally took form this season. Bernadina posted the best all-around numbers of his career, hitting .291/.372/.405 with 11 doubles and five home runs in just 261 plate appearances. A midseason switch to a lighter bat helped him go on a 41-game tear over which he batted .395 (32-for-81) from June 28-August 17, raising his average by 73 points.

However, he was at his best during the crucial four-game home set with Atlanta in mid-July (over which he went 8-for-13) and on the team’s season-long 10-game road trip in early August, where he turned in a four-hit game in San Francisco and this season-defining catch to win a game in Houston.

With his tremendous speed and range in the outfield, Bernadina offered the Nationals a versatile option as a left-handed pinch-hitter, pinch-runner, or defensive replacement off the bench this year. He will be arbitration eligible for the first time in 2013, but remains under team control through the 2016 season.

Shark fans out there may not have to wait until Spring to see Bernadina play, as he is rumored to be taking part in the World Baseball Classic as part of Team Netherlands, the country that stakes ownership to the Antilles islands, including Curacao.

Don’t Panic

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by Noah Frank

Take a deep breath, Nationals fans.

It can be easy, when your team’s back is against the wall, playing to keep its season alive, to panic and lose hope. The postseason brings heightened emotions and an extra sense of urgency to every game, so individual wins and losses can seem blown out of proportion. That’s why now is as good a time as ever to remove emotion from the equation for the moment, to step back, and to look at the reality of what lies ahead the next day or two, based on what we’ve learned about the Nationals and Cardinals from the 2012 season.

By the time Major League teams hit the postseason, they have formed an identity. A 162-game regular season lends enough time to form trends and predictable results, a sample size that – while it does not always play out exactly to form – gives the viewing audience an idea of what to expect from a team in the playoffs.

While the Nationals are known for their pitching, a potent offense helped them to the best run differential in baseball.

The Cardinals posted a +117 run differential over the course of the regular season, fourth-best in baseball and second in the National League only to Washington’s +137 mark. They went 60-31 in games in games decided by three or more runs, also the second-best mark in the league. This is no doubt a strong indicator of the Cardinals ability to produce prolifically on offense, but it also helps compensate for another, less flattering, team statistic. See, St. Louis went just 28-43 (.394) in games decided by less than three runs, ranking just a hair above Chicago and Houston – two teams that combined to lose 208 games this year – as the worst in the league.

The Nationals had a tendency to win blowouts as well (their 56-26 record in games decided by three or more runs was the best in baseball), but they were also solid in close games, going 42-38 in one and two-run games. Washington also played 20 extra-inning contests, the most in baseball, and were 13-7 in those games (8-5 at home). St. Louis, meanwhile, went just 6-12 in extra-inning affairs.

So far, these trends have largely played out to form through the first three games of the series. The Cardinals have won a pair of blowouts, while the Nationals have taken the lone nail-biter. Postseason experience or not, the large sample seems to indicate that this is the norm, not the exception. And if it is, the Nationals should feel pretty good about themselves, as the head into Thursday (and hopefully Friday) needing wins at home. Especially so, when you consider the following:

Washington Post baseball writer Thomas Boswell pointed out early in the series that all four of last year’s Division Series winners were actually outscored by their opponents in their series. The Rangers (21-16), Tigers (28-17), Brewers (25-23) and yes, Cardinals (21-19) all saw their competition score more runs over the course of their respective series, but all came out on top. Each won at least one one-run game in the series, with three of the teams winning a pair of them. But that 2011 St. Louis team was 45-38 in games decided by two runs or less. They were not the same team that Washington needs to beat twice in the next two days to keep its season alive.

Ross Detwiler has been excellent at home this season.

The Nationals have been outscored 22-7 through the first three games of this series, and would likely end up on the short end of the overall run total even if they do take the next two games (after all, they’d have to outscore the Cardinals by an average of eight runs a game to tip the overall balance). The good news is, by doing so, they would actually be the norm, not the exception.

When examining the particulars of the matchups in front of the Nationals, it helps to again stay away from the knee-jerk reactions. A quick look at Game 4 starter Kyle Lohse’s numbers (16-3, 2.86 ERA) doesn’t inspire hope. In fact, he posted a 2.62 ERA in 199.1 innings against all the teams in the league that do not call the Nation’s Capital home. But in his two starts against Washington, the Nationals battered him around to the tune of a 6.92 ERA (12 runs, nine earned, in 11.2 innings). He did not take the loss in either, but very well could have, leaving with deficits of 9-8 and 4-0 in the two games.

Coupled with the lineup’s success against Lohse, Ross Detwiler’s 8-2 record and 2.59 ERA at Nationals Park reshape the whole outlook of the matchup. Of course, Game 5 would bring a rematch of Adam Wainwright and Gio Gonzalez, a Game 1 matchup that the Nationals won, 3-2, back on Sunday in St. Louis.

All the Nationals have to do is win two games in a row at home, something they’ve done 23 times this season, including against this same Cardinals squad on August 30-31, just over a month ago.

Nationals fans, allow yourself to exhale – if only until first pitch Thursday afternoon.

What to Watch For: 8/9

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Washington Nationals (68-43) vs. Houston Astros (36-76)

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (8-6, 2.45) vs. RHP Lucas Harrell (9-7, 3.98)

The Nationals leaned on Gio Gonzalez – who hit his first Major League home run and finished his first nine-inning complete game – to take their third straight one-run win over the Astros in Houston. Washington will send Jordan Zimmermann to the hill in search of a four-game sweep and its sixth consecutive victory overall.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Bernadina CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Werth RF

7. Espinosa SS

8. Suzuki C

9. Zimmermann RHP

SO LONG, SPACE CITY 

Tonight’s tilt will be the last time the Nationals and Astros will meet as NL brethren, as Houston will join the AL West beginning in 2013. Since baseball returned to The District in 2005, the Nationals lead the series 29-26 heading into tonight’s matchup.

J-ZIMM: ROAD WARRIOR

Jordan Zimmermann will make his fourth career start against the Houston Astros tonight, a club against which he has yet to record a victory. The Cubs, Dodgers and Pirates join the Astros as National League clubs that have never been defeated by Jordan. Zimmermann, who is 6-3 with a 2.03 ERA (16 ER/71.0 IP) away from Nationals Park, has allowed one earned run or less in eight of his 11 road starts this season.

MICHAEL MORSE(L) 

Michael Morse has hit safely in a career-high 17 straight games, going 23-for-73 (.315) with four doubles, three homers, 11 RBI, two walks and nine runs. Morse’s team season-high 17-game run is the longest current hitting streak in MLB, as Miami’s Jose Reyes saw his 26-game streak come to an end today in New York. The last National to register a hit streak of this length or longer was Ryan Zimmerman, who posted a 19-gamer from July 22-Aug. 11, 2011.

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