Nats turn to Strasburg in opener with Astros

The Washington Nationals' five-game winning streak may be over, but the club has to like its chances of getting back in the win column with their ace set to take the hill this evening.

The Nats turn to Stephen Strasburg for Monday's opener of a four-game series with the visiting Houston Astros.

Strasburg will make his first start at home in 2012 and has been excellent over his first two appearances. He has allowed just one run over 13 innings with 14 strikeouts and four walks. The right-hander got a no-decision in his first start before beating the Mets on Wednesday with six innings of two-hit ball with nine strikeouts.

Even more encouraging for the 23-year-old was that he managed a career-high 108 pitches, with 24 of those coming during a sixth inning that saw him allow a walk and a single. However, manager Davey Johnson stuck with his starter in the inning.

"I would have probably had to strangle him to get the ball out of his hand," Johnson joked.

Strasburg will face the Astros for the second time in his career, with the first encounter coming in his second game back late last season from Tommy John surgery. The top pick of the 2009 draft was limited to three innings, allowing a run on three hits with four strikeouts.

Washington stretched its winning streak by opening an 11-game homestand with three straight wins over Cincinnati. The Nationals failed to secure a four- game sweep on Sunday, losing 8-5 in 11 innings.

Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche continued their fast starts to the season in the loss, Washington's first since April 9. Desmond notched his third three-hit game of 2012 and drove in two runs while lifting his average to .354, while LaRoche drove in two runs for a second straight game and for the sixth time this season. He leads the Nationals with 12 RBI on the season.

"We're going game by game," Desmond said. "We want to play good baseball everyday and in the end if we win the series that's great, but we understand that we're not going to win every single one, we just want to go out and play well."

Houston has lost four of its past five games and dropped two of three to Miami over the weekend. Both losses came in the 11th inning and by 5-4 margins. Sunday's loss came after the Astros left the bases loaded in the top of the 11th frame only to see the Marlins come through in their chance with the bags full on Hanley Ramirez's game-winning single.

Jose Altuve finished with two hits and two RBI while Brian Bogusevic also had two hits and scored twice. J.D. Martinez had an RBI double and has hit safely in all nine games this season, logging a .371 average, three homers and 10 RBI.

"Even the games that we've lost, we've been in and been maybe one or two at- bats away from pulling ahead or busting it open," remarked Bogusevic. "Once those hits start coming, we'll be a lot better off then."

Houston could be without center fielder Jordan Schafer after he left yesterday's game with dizziness following a knee to the head while attempting to steal second.

That could led to manager Brad Mills shuffling his lineup ahead of Kyle Weiland's second start with the Astros.

Acquired from Boston in December along with shortstop Jed Lowrie, Weiland made his Houston debut on Tuesday and struggled in a loss to the Braves. He allowed four runs over five innings, giving up a pair of homers that resulted in three runs and the 25-year-old took responsibility afterwards.

"This [loss] is on me," Weiland said. "My command wasn't great today."

The right-hander faces the Nationals for the first time.

The Astros and Nats split their six meetings last season, with each team winning twice at home.