Despite a losing record individually, Jordan Zimmermann has been one of the most effective pitchers in the NL this season - especially over the last six weeks.
A matchup with the worst team in the majors doesn't seem likely to slow him down.
The Nationals (48-48) have been without their most promising pitcher after losing phenom Stephen Strasburg to Tommy John surgery last season, but they seem to have another young ace in the making.
Zimmermann (6-7, 2.66 ERA), who underwent reconstructive elbow surgery himself in 2009, has thrived in his first full season back. He ranks fifth in the NL in ERA and has been at his best since the beginning of June, going 4-1 with a 1.32 ERA over his last eight starts.
The 25-year-old right-hander allowed four hits and struck out six without a walk in 6 1-3 innings of a 2-0 win against Colorado in his last outing July 10.
"Jordan was phenomenal," reliever Tyler Clippard told the Nationals' official website. "He's kind of proven to everyone in the league what kind of pitcher he is, and what kind of pitcher we all knew he could be."
Zimmermann is likely to be on a strict innings limit this season due to his injury history, and while he has altered his approach somewhat, he isn't concerned about getting shut down early.
"I used to like getting a lot of strikeouts. Now I have in my mind that strikeouts aren't that big of a deal, they just make your pitch count add up," he said. "I just want to pitch as well as I can until I get to that limit."
Given his recent efforts on the road, Zimmermann could be primed for another shutdown performance. Over his last five starts as the visiting pitcher spanning 36 innings, he's allowed three runs - two earned - along with just 25 hits and five walks.
In his only career outing against Houston, Zimmermann yielded four runs - three earned - in 6 1-3 innings of a 5-0 defeat July 12, 2009, at Minute Maid Park.
Zimmermann, though, now faces a woeful Astros team that has been outscored 109-68 en route to losing 17 of 20.
Houston (31-65) went 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position while falling 5-2 in Monday's series opener.
"We'll put it all together one game. It will come sooner or later," said rookie Jordan Lyles, who pitched into the ninth inning but fell to 0-5.
The Astros now turn to J.A. Happ (3-11, 5.76), who's been tagged with a career-high seven consecutive losing decisions over his last 10 starts.
The left-hander walked a career-worst seven and gave up at least five runs for the fourth consecutive outing in a 5-0 defeat at Florida on July 7. Happ was hoping the extended time off during the All-Star break might help him regroup.
"I'm just frustrated right now. When you look at where they did the damage, definitely I'd like to throw more strikes and keep the walks down," he said. "To be honest with you I don't even want a break, but we have it and I'm going to take it and try to get away for a little bit."
Happ is 1-0 with a 1.62 ERA over three career starts versus the Nationals.