at Kissimmee, Fla.
Wednesday, March 17
Nationals at the plate: Starting in right field on the day the Nationals released projected starter Elijah Dukes, Willy Taveras went 2-for-3 with a homer. Josh Willingham also homered. Justin Maxwell finished 0-for-3 with a strikeout to bring his spring average down to .103.
Astros at the plate: Center fielder and leadoff man Michael Bourn raised his spring batting average from .115 to .207 with a 3-for-3 day that included three runs scored and his third stolen base of the spring. Hunter Pence went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, and Chris Johnson went 2-for-3 with three RBIs and a walk. Jason Michaels -- pretty much a lock to nail down a reserve outfield spot -- hit a solo homer.
Nationals on the mound: Jason Marquis, who gave up five runs in his spring debut against the Mets on March 7, continued to struggle in Grapefruit League action. The Nats' prized offseason pitching acquisition gave up five runs in a first inning that saw all nine Astros come to the plate, and he ended his afternoon tagged for a total of eight runs on eight hits and four walks over 3 1/3 innings. Matt Capps gave up a run on a hit and two walks in the fifth.
Astros on the mound: After being tagged for six runs (four earned) his last time on the hill, Wandy Rodriguez bounced back, giving up two runs on four hits in four innings while striking out seven and walking none. The Nats' two runs off Rodriguez -- who threw a spring-high 70 pitches -- came on a couple of solo homers on pitches up in the zone in the third and fourth innings. Tim Byrdak, competing for a lefty spot in the bullpen, followed Rodriguez and hurled a scoreless inning.
Worth noting: Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn was scratched from the starting lineup for precautionary reasons as he continues to have problems with his lower back. ... Pence made a nice diving catch on a sinking line drive in the third inning. In the bottom of the second, Taveras almost made a phenomenal diving catch on a shot by Carlos Lee in deep right-center field, but the ball went off his glove as he hit the ground. ... In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, fans at Osceola County Stadium received free green Astros caps.
Grapefruit League records: Nationals 2-12; Astros 7-6
Up next: Felipe Paulino will continue his spring competition for the No. 5 spot in the Astros' rotation on Thursday, when he gets the start live on MLB.TV against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., at 1:05 p.m. ET. Possible closer Brandon Lyon is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut. Lyon, signed this offseason to a three-year, $15 million contract, had a cyst on his right shoulder in January. Also slated to pitch for Houston are Chris Sampson, Shane Loux, Wesley Wright and Gary Majewski.
The Nationals' only off-day of their Grapefruit League schedule will come on Thursday. Then, they'll host the Cardinals on Friday at 7:05 p.m. on MLB.TV in a split-squad game. Starting will be phenom Stephen Strasburg, who has yet to give up a run in five Spring Training innings. Despite his hype coming in and his success thus far, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo is leaning toward the 21-year-old right-hander starting his first season of pro ball in the Minor Leagues. Following Strasburg will be Miguel Batista, Sean Burnett and Brian Bruney.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.