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Blog: Strasburg is good, Zimmerman starts at third, Nats lose to Astros

Saturday - 3/16/2013, 11:51pm  ET

AP: 250b0159-319d-4c38-9e7f-5437524bd9da
Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman, right, reacts after striking out as Houston Astros catcher Carlos Corporan, left, adjusts his mask during the fourth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 5, 2013, in Viera, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Craig Heist,

VIERA, Fla.—Stephen Strasburg allowed one run on five hits over 5 1/3 innings while striking out eight in his strongest outing so far this spring. But the Astros came up with a three-run eighth innings and beat the Nationals 4-2.

Strasburg threw 93 pitches, 64 for strikes. His lone mistake was a solo homer in the top of the fourth inning by ex-teammate Rick Ankiel.

Strasburg has been working on being more efficient with runners on base. He's been pitching out of the stretch, and he thinks an adjustment he made tonight will help him going forward.

"I made an adjustment of kind of where I put my foot on the rubber," Strasburg said. "It seemed to help me use my legs a little better and get on top of the ball."

"I was putting it in front of the rubber a little bit and I felt like when I drive, I was pushing more out instead of down the mound so I just put it a little more on top of the rubber and it kind of helped me use the slope and get on top of it."

Strasburg got into a very nice groove early on. He was throwing hard and getting his curve ball where he wanted it. He struck out five straight batters before giving up the homer to Ankiel in the fourth.

"I think the biggest thing is hitting my spot and being able to execute pitches," he said. "I think I have been able to do that the last couple of times out so I just got to keep on working on it and I know it's going to get better as time goes on."

And time is the one thing Strasburg wishes would move quickly. Spring training is longer this year because of the World Baseball Classic and the right-hander is scheduled to have two more starts before taking the ball Opening Day against the Marlins at Nationals Park.

"When you get to this point and you get closer to 100 pitches, it's like, alright, let's get the season going. But, that's not the case, we still have a few more weeks so, you just got to keep working and keep grinding."

Strasburg wants to continue to build his pitch count before the season starts -- with no restrictions on him this season, that's important to him.

"I not going out there trying to get used to throw 94 pitches," he said. "You look at some of the top pitchers in the game and they go 110 almost every time out. I am going to be prepared for it, I'm not saying they are going to let me do it but I'm going to be physically ready for it."

Zimmerman at third

Ryan Zimmerman made his first appearance of the spring at third base as he is coming off off-season shoulder surgery. He handled his lone chance, a ground ball off the bat of Astros catcher Carlos Corporan. Zimmerman had to come in on the ball and make the play to first base.

"I'm not going to lie, I was a little nervous in the first inning but everything was good," Zimmerman said. "I think the throws between innings got better each inning. The first one was a little shaky. Not shaky, but not as good as I've been throwing but as the innings went on it got better. So, it was good to get out there in front of people and get back into a game."

Zimmerman was originally scheduled to start in the field on Monday but he felt good enough that he told manager Davey Johnson he wanted to give it a go on Saturday.

He will stay back Sunday when the team travels to Lakeland to take on the Tigers, but will then get the majority of the time at third the rest of the spring.

"For me now it's a matter of volume and getting arm strength up," he said. "It's definitely good enough to play in a game, but I still need to build it up just to have the longevity for the whole season which we still have two weeks to do that so I'm perfectly pleased with where it's at."

Storen struggles

Nationals reliever Drew Storen gave up three runs on four hits in the eighth inning, which gave the Astros a 4-2 lead, prompting Davey Johnson to say his right-hander may be over thinking things a bit too much.

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