Seeking a seventh victory in eight matchups between the clubs this season, visiting Washington tries for its first sweep of Houston in 12 years Thursday night.
The Nationals (68-43) are 6-1 in the season series with the Astros (36-76), but the last five of those victories have all come by one-run margins.
After posting back-to-back extra-inning wins to open this four-game set, Washington escaped with another narrow victory Wednesday, prevailing 4-3. Having overcome a shaky first inning, Gio Gonzalez withstood Houston's rally attempt in the ninth to throw his second career complete game. Gonzalez's first ever homer - a two-run shot - also proved key given the Nationals' 1-for-12 effort with runners in scoring position.
"Gio couldn't have been any better," manager Davey Johnson said. "He pitched an outstanding ball game ... it was just a great outing by him to save the bullpen."
Seeking to match a season high with a sixth consecutive victory overall, the Nationals franchise hasn't swept the Astros in a series of at least three games since May 19-21, 2000, when the club was the Montreal Expos. It's never completed a four-game sweep of Houston.
Looking to help the Nationals do just that is Jordan Zimmermann (8-6, 2.45 ERA), who's 5-0 with a 1.65 ERA over his last eight starts. The right-hander, though, was knocked around and didn't receive a decision during Saturday's 10-7 win over Miami, yielding a season-high five runs - four earned - and seven hits over five innings.
While Zimmermann is 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA in three career starts in this series, he scattered four hits over seven innings of one-run ball April 18 during Washington's 3-2 victory. His two losses to the Astros have both come at Minute Maid Park, where he owns a 7.15 ERA.
Zimmermann will be opposed by Lucas Harrell (9-7, 3.98), who's led Houston to its only two victories in the last 22 games. Looking to win a career-best third consecutive start, Harrell has gone 3-2 with a 2.26 ERA over his last eight outings - yielding two runs or fewer in all but one of them.
He issued a career high-tying five walks Saturday but managed to limit the damage, allowing two runs and four hits over six innings of a 3-2 win at Atlanta.
"I got away from my strengths and started nibbling a little too much at the end," said Harrell, who carried a shutout into the sixth. "It got me in trouble walking guys. I felt like my changeup really bailed me out in a couple of situations."
In his only previous start against Washington, Harrell gave up one run and four hits over 6 2-3 innings opposite Zimmermann in April. The right-hander is 6-1 with a 2.02 ERA in nine home starts.
He'll need to be wary of Michael Morse , who singled Wednesday to extend his career-best hitting streak to 17 games. The Nationals' slugging first baseman is batting .315 with three homers over that stretch.
Bryce Harper , in contrast, hasn't been able to get much going at the plate of late. The 19-year-old phenom is 0 for 11 in this series and isn't expected to be in Thursday's lineup.
"He's pressing a little bit," Johnson said. "I'll give him the day off ... and let him regroup a little bit."
|August 05, 2012||Mark DeRosa||15-Day DL||Left abdominal strain|
|August 01, 2012||Henry Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Strained lower back|
|July 29, 2012||Adam LaRoche||Day-to-Day||Left game - Back tightness|
|July 22, 2012||Ian Desmond||15-Day DL||Torn left oblique|
|July 18, 2012||Jhonatan Solano||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|July 01, 2012||Chien-Ming Wang||15-Day DL||Strained right hip|
|August 07, 2012||Jordan Schafer||15-Day DL||Left shoulder separation|
|August 02, 2012||Francisco Cordero||15-Day DL||Inflamed right big toe|
|July 31, 2012||Wilton Lopez||Day-to-Day||Right elbow tightness|
|July 15, 2012||Jed Lowrie||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|July 14, 2012||Jed Lowrie||Day-to-Day||Right ankle|
|July 08, 2012||Jason Castro||15-Day DL||Fluid in right knee|
HOUSTON (AP) -- Davey Johnson knew Jordan Zimmermann had plenty left to pitch another inning Thursday night.
But with his team up by three runs and Zimmermann's pitch count nearing 90, the Washington manager didn't see any reason to send his young right-hander back out for the seventh.
"I just didn't want to push him," Johnson said. "He's too valuable."
Michael Morse homered twice, Zimmermann matched his career high with 11 strikeouts and the Nationals completed a four-game sweep of the Houston Astros with a 5-0 victory.
Zimmermann was pitching on an extra day of rest after experiencing soreness. Johnson said Zimmermann still has some discomfort when he gets loose, so the manager wants to "be real cautious with him."
"He looked like his old self tonight," Johnson said. "He was outstanding ... dominant game. That's him. Very dominant, overpowering."
Morse drove in three runs and extended his hitting streak to a career-best 18 games, the longest active string in the majors after Miami's Jose Reyes was stopped at 26 games earlier in the day. Zimmermann (9-6) pitched six innings of three-hit ball before three relievers finished Washington's seventh shutout of the season.
Zimmermann said he's fine and that he'll be ready to pitch again in five days. He was happy to rebound from his previous outing when he allowed a season-high five runs in five innings.
"I was locating the fastball well and then right when they would foul a few off, I would throw the slider out of the zone and they'd chase it," Zimmermann said.
The NL East-leading Nationals have won six in a row and own baseball's best record at 69-43.
Adam LaRoche drove in a run in the fourth inning before a sacrifice fly by Morse made it 2-0.
Morse's towering shot to left made it 3-0 in the sixth. He sent his second home run the opposite way to the seats in right field in the eighth for his fourth career multihomer game.
"He was attacking the fastball, and I like that in a hitter," Johnson said. "I like attack. I don't like letting fastballs pass that you can get ahold of and drive and that's what he did today and I really liked his approach. It was outstanding."
Zimmermann walked none in his first win over Houston in four outings. Michael Gonzalez , Sean Burnett and Drew Storen completed the five-hitter.
It was the 11th time this season the Astros were shut out and the first since July 20.
Lucas Harrell (9-8) yielded five hits and two runs with five walks in five innings as Houston dropped its fifth straight.
Zimmermann had retired seven straight, including striking out the side in the fifth, before Marwin Gonzalez singled with one out in the sixth. The right-hander got right back on track after that, fanning Steve Pearce and Justin Maxwell to end the inning.
Roger Bernadina singled to open the fourth before Ryan Zimmerman walked to set up LaRoche's RBI single. Morse's sacrifice fly added a run, but Harrell was able to limit the damage after that thanks in part to Maxwell robbing Jayson Werth of a hit by racing up Tal's Hill in center field to make a great catch.
Harrell needed 32 pitches to get through that inning, however, and was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fifth.
"That fourth inning got him in trouble," Houston manager Brad Mills said. ""He ran out of gas in that fourth inning. He was able to get through the fifth inning but wound up with 100 pitches."
Morse's first homer was off Mickey Storey , and Fernando Rodriguez gave up the second one.
Washington added a run on Zimmerman's sacrifice fly in the ninth inning.
NOTES: Houston optioned INF Matt Downs and OF J.D. Martinez to Triple-A Oklahoma City after the game. ... Johnson gave rookie Bryce Harper a night off after he went 0 for 11 in the first three games of the series. Johnson said Harper will be back in the lineup Friday. "He's an intense competitor and sometimes, just like all young players, their emotions kind of get in the way of their ability sometimes. He just needed to sit back and relax and take it easy and he'll be fine," Johnson said. ... The Astros acquired INF Tyler Greene from St. Louis for a player to be named or cash. Greene was traveling to Houston on Thursday and will be activated for Friday's game.