- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 13, 2010

KISSIMMEE, Fla. |After two consecutive cancellations, the rain finally stopped in Central Florida on Saturday. The Nationals couldn’t say the same for their losing streak.

Starter Scott Olsen pitched three solid innings and Ryan Zimmerman homered before the Nationals bullpen faltered and minor leaguer Jack Shuck delivered a walk-off, RBI single to give the Houston Astros split-squad an 8-7 win over Washington at a windy Osceola County Stadium on Saturday.

The Nationals are the only winless team in the major leagues this spring at 0-9.

Bud Norris made his second start of the spring for the Astros, allowing two runs on three hits and two walks over three innings. He struck out one and threw 32 of 55 pitches for strikes.

“I got a little work in with the changeup,” the 25-year-old right-hander said. “They had a big left-handed lineup, a lot more breaking balls than I normally would at this point.”

Closer candidate Matt Lindstrom also had a scoreless inning of work for the Astros. He has yet to allow a run in three appearances this spring.

Third baseman Pedro Feliz went 3 for 4 for the Astros, while Hunter Pence and Jeff Keppinger each had two hits and Edwin Maysonet drove in a pair of runs.

Washington relievers Drew Storen and Matt Capps each threw a scoreless inning. Storen has yet to give up a run this spring in three appearances and had two impressive strikeouts Saturday. Capps didn’t surrender a run for the first time in four outings this spring.

Matt Chico was not as efficient for the Nats. The left-hander allowed six runs, five earned, on seven hits in one inning of work.

Olsen allowed one run on four hits in his second outing of the spring. He struck out one, didn’t walk anyone for the second straight start and threw 27 of 41 pitches for strikes.

“We mixed in more breaking balls than we did last time,” Olsen said. “We had some good tilt and good angle on them. Will (Nieves) said they looked like fastballs until they broke. In the first inning, we threw some changeups. We really started to mix in the slider in the second and the third.”

Olsen is working on getting the strength back in his arm after his 2009 season was cut short due to shoulder surgery. He had made just 11 starts when the Nationals discovered a small tear in his left labrum in July. He finished the year 2-4 with a 6.03 ERA, a far cry from the 12-10 record and 4.04 ERA he posted as a rookie with the Marlins in 2006.

Olsen hit 88 mph on the radar gun Saturday, up from 86 in his first start on March 8.

“He’s not where he needs to be yet, but he’s getting closer,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. “He’s got a couple of more starts at least, so there’s plenty of time. The arm strength was there today compared to last time. If he makes those kind of jumps in those increments the next two or three times out he’ll be fine.”

Zimmerman hit an 0-2 Norris offering the other way to right field for his second home run of the spring in the third, with the 30 mph gusts helping the ball get over the wall. Zimmerman finished 3 for 4 with two runs scored. Shortstop prospect Ian Desmond went 2 for 4 and drove in his team-leading 11th run of the spring, bringing his average up to .476.

“Desmond is playing great,” Riggleman said. “He’s been just outstanding offensively and defensively, running the bases and providing energy.”

NOTES: Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, watched the game from owner Drayton McLane’s seats next to the Astros’ dugout. … Stephen Strasburg, the top pick in the 2009 draft, will make his second start of the spring on Sunday in Viera when the Nationals play the Cardinals. Riggleman said Strasburg is slotted to pitch three innings after tossing two scoreless frames his first time out Tuesday against the Tigers. … Nationals right fielder Elijah Dukes was a late scratch on Saturday and was replaced in the lineup by prospect Justin Maxwell. Riggleman decided to sit Dukes due to an ailment in his foot. … Astros closer candidate Brandon Lyon experienced some stiffness after facing live hitters for the first time this spring on Friday. Lyon, who is recovering from having a cyst drained in his throwing shoulder, is set to throw another 30-pitch side session against live hitters on Sunday.

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