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HOU@WSH: Gonzalez fans eight through seven scoreless

The team that has taken the National League East by storm in the early going of the 2012 season will be trying to make a sweeping statement Sunday.

As long as Mother Nature cooperates -- a drenching storm is due into the Washington D.C. area -- the Nationals hope to continue what has been a pleasantly surprising 12-4 start to the season as they host the Marlins to close out what already has been a successful first homestand.

The Nationals are hoping to add to what has been an 8-2 opening homestand with their first sweep of the young season when they hand the ball to left-hander Gio Gonzalez against Marlins ace Josh Johnson in Sunday's series and homestand finale.

Of the two pitchers, Gonzalez has gotten off to the better start out of the gates. Gonzalez picked up his first National League victory in his previous start Tuesday against the Astros, and after a rough first start, he sports a 2.04 ERA through his first three assignments, with back-to-back outings of seven shutout innings.

A key to the lefty's start is his 21 strikeouts against just five walks, control Gonzalez credits to catchers Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores helping him keep the ball down in the strike zone.

"[The catchers] do a great job about giving a strike zone," said Gonzalez, acquired from the A's during the offseason. "I'm not taking anything away from the catchers I had in Oakland. They were great, they were phenomenal. They helped me out in a lot of games. But, again, this is a different league for me. I figured I could just go out there, pound the strike zone, let these guys put the ball in play. I want to avoid the walks, let these guys put the ball in play."

Johnson, meanwhile, is still looking for his stride -- and for his first win in what is now more than a year. His last victory was April 19, 2011, not long before he was shut down for the season with shoulder problems. That's a span of eight starts.

One good indicator for Johnson and the Marlins: He's 7-0 lifetime against the Nationals. Another: In a no-decision against the Cubs his last time out, Johnson posted a season-best seven innings, allowing two earned runs on seven hits -- his best outing of the year.

"Just to get deep into the game was good," Johnson said. "There were a couple hard-hit balls, but some just found holes and found ways to get through. I was out there battling and found a way to get through seven."

Marlins: LoMo returns and delivers
• Logan Morrison's game-tying, two-run homer in the ninth inning Saturday was his first of the season and made it apparent that his day off Friday was beneficial. Morrison was out of the starting lineup Friday -- he contributed a pinch-hit single -- as he continues to work back slowly from offseason surgery on his right knee.

"We've got a plan for him," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "It's a process. Hopefully it's a process for two months, a month and a half, then we see how it is after that."

Said Morrison: "It's a day-to-day thing with my knee. They give me days off just to make sure it doesn't get worse."

• Things went fine for Emilio Bonifacio in his first start at second base Saturday, but they didn't go so great at the plate. Leading the Marlins with 17 hits and tied with Hanley Ramirez with 10 runs, Bonifacio went 0-for-4 against Stephen Strasburg and Co., and he is now 0-for-7 for the series.

Nationals: Zimmerman day-to-day with shoulder
• For just the second time in his career, a shoulder problem knocked third baseman Ryan Zimmerman out of the lineup Saturday.

Zimmerman was a late scratch because of mild right shoulder inflammation. There is no structural damage and he is listed as day-to-day.

The first time Zimmerman's shoulder was a problem, it was more than a day-to-day proposition. He missed 48 games in 2008 with a small labral tear.

On Saturday, veteran utility man Mark DeRosa took over Zimmerman's spot at third base and third spot in the lineup. DeRosa collected a single on a 1-for-4 day at the plate, leaving his early average at an even .100, and he shifted to left field in the 10th inning, with Chad Tracy going across the diamond to third after starting at first.

• The Nationals' pitching staff, with its starters leading the Majors with a 1.94 ERA through Saturday, have allowed more than three runs just twice through the first 10 games of their homestand, holding opponents to two or fewer runs six times.

Worth noting
• The Nationals are chipping away at recent history at home against the Marlins. Entering the series, the Marlins owned a 14-4 mark in D.C. since the start of the 2010 season, the best record of any team against a divisional foe during that span. Two wins for the home team later, the Marlins' overall edge on the road against the Nationals is now 26-11.

• At the conclusion of this series, the Marlins get a day off in New York after taking the short trip up the Eastern seaboard to take on the Mets in Jose Reyes' first visit to Citi Field since heading for Miami. The Nationals have a considerably longer trip that includes an off-day, as they will begin a three-game set Tuesday at San Diego. Comments