Nationals fall to Astros 8-7 to remain winless

After two consecutive cancellations, the rain finally stopped in

Central Florida on Saturday. The Nationals couldn’t say the same

for their losing streak.

Starter Scott Olsen pitched three solid innings and Ryan

Zimmerman homered before the Nationals bullpen faltered and minor

leaguer Jack Shuck delivered a walk-off, RBI single to give the

Houston Astros split-squad an 8-7 win over Washington at a windy

Osceola County Stadium on Saturday.

The Nationals are the only winless team in the major leagues

this spring at 0-9.

Bud Norris made his second start of the spring for the Astros,

allowing two runs on three hits and two walks over three innings.

He struck out one and threw 32 of 55 pitches for strikes.

“I got a little work in with the changeup,” the 25-year-old

right-hander said. “They had a big left-handed lineup, a lot more

breaking balls than I normally would at this point.”

Closer candidate Matt Lindstrom also had a scoreless inning of

work for the Astros. He has yet to allow a run in three appearances

this spring.

Third baseman Pedro Feliz went 3 for 4 for the Astros, while

Hunter Pence and Jeff Keppinger each had two hits and Edwin

Maysonet drove in a pair of runs.

Washington relievers Drew Storen and Matt Capps each threw a

scoreless inning. Storen has yet to give up a run this spring in

three appearances and had two impressive strikeouts Saturday. Capps

didn’t surrender a run for the first time in four outings this


Matt Chico was not as efficient for the Nats. The left-hander

allowed six runs, five earned, on seven hits in one inning of


Olsen allowed one run on four hits in his second outing of the

spring. He struck out one, didn’t walk anyone for the second

straight start and threw 27 of 41 pitches for strikes.

“We mixed in more breaking balls than we did last time,” Olsen

said. “We had some good tilt and good angle on them. Will (Nieves)

said they looked like fastballs until they broke. In the first

inning, we threw some changeups. We really started to mix in the

slider in the second and the third.”

Olsen is working on getting the strength back in his arm after

his 2009 season was cut short due to shoulder surgery. He had made

just 11 starts when the Nationals discovered a small tear in his

left labrum in July. He finished the year 2-4 with a 6.03 ERA, a

far cry from the 12-10 record and 4.04 ERA he posted as a rookie

with the Marlins in 2006.

Olsen hit 88 mph on the radar gun Saturday, up from 86 in his

first start on March 8.

“He’s not where he needs to be yet, but he’s getting closer,”

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. “He’s got a couple of more

starts at least, so there’s plenty of time. The arm strength was

there today compared to last time. If he makes those kind of jumps

in those increments the next two or three times out he’ll be


Zimmerman hit an 0-2 Norris offering the other way to right

field for his second home run of the spring in the third, with the

30 mph gusts helping the ball get over the wall. Zimmerman finished

3 for 4 with two runs scored. Shortstop prospect Ian Desmond went 2

for 4 and drove in his team-leading 11th run of the spring,

bringing his average up to .476.

“Desmond is playing great,” Riggleman said. “He’s been just

outstanding offensively and defensively, running the bases and

providing energy.”

NOTES: Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara,

watched the game from owner Drayton McLane’s seats next to the

Astros’ dugout. … Stephen Strasburg, the top pick in the 2009

draft, will make his second start of the spring on Sunday in Viera

when the Nationals play the Cardinals. Riggleman said Strasburg is

slotted to pitch three innings after tossing two scoreless frames

his first time out Tuesday against the Tigers. … Nationals right

fielder Elijah Dukes was a late scratch on Saturday and was

replaced in the lineup by prospect Justin Maxwell. Riggleman

decided to sit Dukes due to an ailment in his foot. … Astros

closer candidate Brandon Lyon experienced some stiffness after

facing live hitters for the first time this spring on Friday. Lyon,

who is recovering from having a cyst drained in his throwing

shoulder, is set to throw another 30-pitch side session against

live hitters on Sunday.