VIERA, Fla. (AP) - Rafael Soriano had his roughest outing of spring training. Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson was hardly concerned.
Soriano, making his fourth appearance, gave up a leadoff single to Houston's Brandon Laird and a first-pitch home run to Nate Freiman to give the Astros a one-run lead in the seventh inning Thursday.
Micah Owings answered for Washington with a grand slam in the bottom half, leading the Nationals to a 6-3 victory over Houston.
``I thought he threw the ball good,' Johnson said of Soriano. ``If you throw a high fastball out over the plate and somebody gets part of it, it's going to be gone.
``But he was basically just getting his work in. He used a few extra pitches. Early on, he was just getting his location and his arm stretched out. That's what you expect,' Johnson added. ``Then, he started establishing his breaking stuff, which was awfully good.'
Soriano would come back to strike out two of the next three hitters to end his inning. The two runs he gave up were his first of the spring. He has now given up four hits, while striking out five and walking none in four innings.
Washington right fielder Jayson Werth had a wild first inning. In the top half he misplayed a fly ball by hit by Houston's Brett Wallace for a three-base error. But he made up for it in the bottom, turning on an inside fastball by Houston starter Alex White for a solo homer - his first of the spring.
Werth also singled, one of four Nationals to have two hits. Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos and Steve Lombardozzi were the others.
Washington starter Chris Young gave up a leadoff homer to Marwin Gonzalez, but did not allow another run in four innings. He had much better command of his fastball than in his previous spring outing when he twice threw five consecutive balls.
``Today was progress for sure,' Young said. ``(My) command was a little bit better, still not exactly where I want it, but it's part of spring training. Overall, I think there were some positives. The ball felt like it was coming out pretty good.'
Young, who signed a minor league contract with Washington that includes an out clause, will likely have a decision to make at the end of spring training. Barring an injury to a member of the Nationals rotation, he can either head to Triple-A and wait for a chance to get called up at some point, or possibly try to catch on with another team.
Johnson said he believes Young can help a major league rotation, but would like to have the 6-foot-10 right-hander in the organization for starting pitcher depth.
``I'm real comfortable with my starting staff,' Johnson said. ``(But) that's one area where we're a little shallow - starting pitching. We'll see what happens.'
Despite hitting two home runs, the Astros did not have the best day at the plate. Not only did they strike out 10 times, but they were 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base.
On the positive side, White, who gave up four runs in 2 2-3 innings against the Mets on March 9, was better on Thursday. He went four innings and gave up two runs.
``I mixed in all my pitches and that's key right now, to throw a lot of strikes and get some outs,' White said. ``I wanted to throw more splits today than I have been. That's my out pitch. I wanted to get in a game and throw it 100 percent.
``That's what I did. I threw some good changeups early, with the split finger. Mix those together and it's a good combination,' he said.
NOTES: The Nationals made some roster moves before Thursday's game. Infielders Will Rhymes and Matt Skole, along with pitcher Pat McCoy, were re-assigned to the team's minor league camp. INF Anthony Rendon, C Sandy Leon and RHP Nathan Karns were optioned to Double-A Harrisburg while OF Eury Perez was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse . Rendon was batting .375 and leading the Nationals with four home runs and 11 RBIs this spring. Johnson said he simply needs to get some consistent playing time. The Nationals manager was also impressed with the play of Skole. ``I'm getting them out of here so it takes some of the pressure off the guys I've got (up) here,' Johnson joked . Catcher Wilson Ramos played for the second straight day, passing yet another test for his surgically repaired knee. Johnson said he would start alternating Ramos and catcher Kurt Suzuki for the rest of the spring and declined to say who would get the opening day start . Houston second baseman Jake Elmore was back in the lineup Thursday after recovering from an oblique strain . Astros manager Bo Porter said pitchers Erik Bedard and Lucas Harrell both reported no probles following their outings Wednesday. Bedard (strained right gluteal muscle) threw an inning of relief in Houston's loss to a Nationals split squad team while Harrell (strained right groin) threw a bullpen session. Harrell is scheduled to start Saturday against Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals.
The Associated Press News Service
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