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CIN@WSH: Gio fans seven over seven scoreless frames

When the Astros take on the Nationals in Washington on Tuesday night, Houston will continue to try and find the right mix of players on the field for the present and future, while the high-flying Nationals will be hoping that their starter pitches as well at home as he did in his last outing.

Astros manager Brad Mills said Monday that Tuesday would be a perfect time to get versatile infielder Matt Downs into the lineup. Downs had a breakout 2011, hitting 10 homers and driving in 41 runs in only 199 at-bats, and he can play anywhere in the infield. It's a fact that isn't lost on the Houston skipper, who often tries to find ways to get at-bats for his bench players.

"We're nine games into the season and we need to get Downs his first start," Mills said. "I'm very cognizant of that. Some of our guys at the positions he plays have been playing pretty well, and it's tough to sit them, and you want to get as much out of them as you can. You need to balance those things out."

As for the Nationals, they'd love to see the balance they saw from one of their big-name offseason acquisitions, left-hander Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who will be opposed by Astros lefty Wandy Rodriguez on Tuesday, reverted to his All-Star form in his last start, the Nationals' home opener against Cincinnati.

He went seven innings, giving up two hits, and, most important for a pitcher who has struggled with control problems in his young career, no walks. This came after his first start of the season, which came in Chicago against the Cubs, when Gonzalez allowed four runs in 3 2/3 innings.

Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos said the difference from start to start was the effectiveness of Gonzalez's changeup.

"The changeup didn't work too much [in Chicago], but today it broke more. His pitches were working pretty good today," Ramos said. "Today he shook me off like one time, so we stayed on the same page. That's what I wanted."

Astros: Magic Wand(y) against the Nats
Rodriguez is 5-1 in his career against the Nats, which is his best record against any team with a minimum of five decisions. Rodriguez is coming off a loss at home against the Braves in his last start, in which his defense committed four errors behind him. The Astros have now committed eight total errors in Rodriguez's two starts. The Astros have committed only one error in their other seven games. Tuesday will mark Rodriguez's 200th career start, which ranks second in franchise history among left-handers, and 10th overall.

• Through 10 games, Astros hitters have combined for 42 walks (4.2 per game). This already represents a significant improvement from the 2011 numbers, when the club recorded 401 walks in 162 games (2.47 per game). Leading the way for Houston in this department is outfielder Jordan Schafer, who has walked eight times in 48 plate appearances.

• First baseman Carlos Lee is off to a good start this season with nine RBIs. Through his first nine games of last season, Lee was hitting .200 (7-for-35) with one home run and five RBIs.

Nationals: Already making history
The Nationals' 8-3 record represents their best 11-game record since coming to Washington in 2005. To date, the Nationals' (2005-present) best 11-game mark was 7-4 in 2005.

• Reliever Henry Rodriguez has retired 12 of 14 batters faced in four appearances since taking the loss April 9 against the Mets in New York.

• Shortstop Ian Desmond has reached base 21 times in 11 games (18 hits, three walks), and has six multi-hit games.

Worth noting
• The Astros had the youngest Opening Day roster in the National League, with an average age of 27.82. Only Kansas City (American League) had a younger average age (27.42) in the Majors. Ten Astros players made their first appearance on an Opening Day roster in 2012.

• Beginning with the Astros' visit to Nationals Park last September, the Nationals have won eight of their last nine series overall (all opponents), including six in a row. Four of the series victories during the current six-series win streak came on the road.

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