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HOU@WSH: Lee lines an RBI single to center field

WASHINGTON -- On Sunday afternoon, the Astros lost, 8-2, to the Nationals, dropping the series and falling to 48-97 for the season. The 97th loss tied the franchise record for most in a season.

The Astros have reached the 97-loss mark on three occasions, most recently in 1991.

"It speaks for itself. It's just one of those nights," left fielder J.D. Martinez said.

Sunday's defeat didn't look all that different from previous losses this season. A young starter, still learning his way in the big leagues, missed his location and paid the price. The team had a solid strategy at the plate, but failed to capitalize on opportunities.

"It's just one of those years that you can't get anything going," Carlos Lee said. "[We] play a lot of good games, but we didn't get the results we wanted to. We have a bunch of young guys that are going to be good."

Despite making Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg labor, the Astros could not survive Washington's power surge in the third inning.

Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond provided the first blow with a solo homer to left field off of rookie starter Henry Sosa. Both Rick Ankiel and Ryan Zimmerman followed with shots of their own to deep center field to give the Nationals a three-run lead. The last time the Astros gave up three consecutive homers also occurred against the Nationals on July 11, 2009, at Minute Maid Park.

"On the first one, I tried to throw the slider for a strike, but he got it pretty good," Sosa said. "The next two, I missed my spot. I wanted to throw it down, but I got it a little high. I'll try to remember that for the next start."

Later that inning, rookie Chris Marrero's RBI double to deep center scored Danny Espinosa. Sosa exited after giving up five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings, including the back-to-back-to-back blasts. He fell to 2-4 with a 5.02 ERA on the season.

"It seems like in his starts so far, he's had that one inning," manager Brad Mills said. "Whether it's been two runs, three runs, it's been one inning when they've been able to get their runs. Today, it was the third inning. His ball seemed to flatten out and he didn't have the location that he wanted on those pitches. When they flatten out and they are up in the zone, they are going to get hit."

Mills started to notice the change during the second inning, when Sosa allowed an infield single to Jayson Werth and a double down the left-field line to Espinosa. Washington scored its first run on Marrero's sacrifice fly, but Sosa escaped the inning without much damage.

Despite the tough loss, Mills was proud of his team's aggressive but patient approach against Strasburg. They forced the young phenom to throw 31 pitches in the first inning by fouling off a lot of pitches.

"That was the approach that we were trying to use and the guys did a good job with it," Mills said. The strategy paid off when Strasburg left after throwing 57 pitches through three innings.

"I went out there and I kind of rushed a little bit," Strasburg said of his outing. "I was able to make adjustments the next two innings. I wish I wasn't on a pitch count. It would have been nice to go out there and pitch longer in the game."

In that long first inning, third baseman Jimmy Paredes laced a liner back up the middle for a single, before quickly stealing second. With two outs, Lee drove a fastball to short center field, scoring Paredes and giving the Astros an early one-run lead.

"It seemed like everybody was having good at-bats, taking him deep into the count, seeing some pitches, fouling off some tough pitches," Lee said. "We did good, [but] we couldn't get nothing going. It seems like we didn't have any fire to get back."

Indeed, Houston's offense went quiet for most of the game, save for an added run in the top of the ninth. Matt Downs doubled to right-center-field and later scored on a throwing error by Zimmerman.

The Houston bullpen allowed two additional runs after Sosa's exit. Facing reliever Jordan Lyles, Zimmerman knocked an RBI single to shallow center field in the sixth inning to pad Washington's lead.

In the seventh, reliever Lance Pendleton hit both Marrero and catcher Wilson Ramos before allowing a run-scoring single to Laynce Nix. Wilton Lopez entered with two outs and gave up a hit to Desmond that scored Ramos.

"Today, we all wanted to make sure that we stayed aggressive," Desmond said. "We weren't so passive, giving a pitcher a strike, whatever it may have been. We wanted to make sure we were in the driver's seat all day. That worked out for us."

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