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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Zim Homers Twice, Nats Still Lose; LoDuca Injured

Houston, TX--Despite two home runs from slumping Ryan Zimmerman, the Washington Nationals suffered another one-run loss on the road, this time at the hands of the Houston Astros, 4-3.

The Astros pushed a run across in the bottom of the ninth inning against relievers Joel Hanrahan (0-2) and Jesus Colome to take the second game of the three-game series. Hanrahan started the inning off granting Astros' second baseman Kaz Matsui a four-pitch walk, and Matsui immediately stole second base -- his second steal of the night, and the fourth of the game for Astros base-runners. After Hanrahan struck out Miguel Tejada, he intentionally walked lance Berkman to set up a force play. Manager Manny Acta then went to Colome, who wild-pitched Matsui to third and then surrendered Carlos Lee's game-winning single to center field.

Lee has provided the game-winning hit in both games of this series for the Astros, having doubled home the winning runs Tuesday night in the bottom of the 8th inning to secure that victory.

Astros reliever Jose Valverde (4-1) pitched a perfect ninth inning to get the win.

The Nats got off to an early lead against Houston stater Roy Oswalt. Zimmerman hit the first of his two homers in the top of the first, scoring shortstop Cristian Guzman who had singled in front of him. Oswalt would then strike out the next six Nationals batters to come to the plate. Oswalt struck out nine batters total in seven innings.

Houston scored three runs in the bottom of the fourth against Nats' starter Odalis Perez. It was revealed in the post-game press conferences that Perez battled through flu-like symptoms all game, including vomiting between the first and second innings. But Perez was effective despite his discomfort until that fourth inning. Berkman (8-for-10 in the series so far) led of the frame with his 11th home run of the season. Perez quickly got Lee to bounce out to short for the first out, but failed to cover the bag on a grounder to first by Hunter Pence allowing Pence to reach safely.

Perez then hit the next batter, Ty Wigginton, with his very next pitch. On the following pitch after that, Pence stole third. Two pitches later, Wigginton stole second. Perez managed to strike out catcher Brad Ausmus during the at bat for the second out, but he grooved an 1-2 pitch to Oswalt, who helped his own cause by depositing the mistake right back up the middle into center field, and the Astros had their first lead at 3-2.

For the night, Perez pitched five innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits and two walks, striking out three. Not a terrible performance given the circumstances, but not enough when the offense could only muster three runs on seven hits.

Washington tied the game with Zimmerman's second home run of the game, his fifth of the season, in the top of the sixth. Zimmerman went 3-for-4 on the evening, upping his season average to .239. But he received no help from the rest of the line-up, as the 4-5-6-7 hitters all were held without a hit. Felipe Lopez had a double and single, and Guzman and Wily Mo Pena each collected one safety.

NATS NOTES: The loss moves the Nats season record to 14-20, 5.5 games behind division leading Philadelphia and Florida.

Catcher Paul LoDuca (seen to the right on May 4) re-injured his right hand fouling a ball while batting in the seventh inning. The team announced Friday that he fractured the fourth metacarpal bone in his right (throwing) hand and will miss four to six weeks. No roster move was announced at time this story was published.

LoDuca was also involved in an altercation with fans as he was being assisted off the field after the injury. LoDuca exchanged words with three patrons in the first couple of rows behind the Nats dugout. The unruly fans were ejected from the game.

The team announced before the game that left-handed pitcher Matt Chico would be reassigned to bullpen duty for the foreseeable future, and fellow lefty Mike O'Connor, recently recalled from Triple-A, would take his place in the rotation. Acta suggested that Chico needed to work through some things and the team was more comfortable with him getting back on track out of the pen. Acta also stated the move was "not temporary", meaning O'Connor would receive more than just one start.

Zim Homers Twice, Nats Still Lose; LoDuca Injured also posted at DC Sports Box

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008

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