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CIN@WSH: Zimmermann gives up one run over seven

The Nationals' pitching staff is off to arguably its best start in franchise history. As a team, Washington's 1.91 ERA is the lowest it's ever been through 12 games, and is the lowest for any Major League team over its first 12 games since the 2005 Marlins (1.61).

Yet despite turning in two of those solid outings, personally, Jordan Zimmermann will still be in search of his first win when he toes the rubber against the Astros on Wednesday night.

During the Nationals' 9-3 start -- the franchise's best since the 1981 Expos started 10-2 -- Zimmermann has allowed just two earned runs over 14 innings of work in his two starts. All he has to show for it is one loss and one no-decision.

"I was tickled to death that we got [Zimmermann] off the hook. He pitched another great ballgame," manager Davey Johnson said after the Nationals rallied from a late 1-0 deficit in Zimmermann's last outing against Cincinnati. "It would have been tragic for him to lose that ballgame. I would hate for him to be 0-2 after pitching two great ballgames."

As for Astros starter Lucas Harrell, he'll be aiming to end the Astros' three-game slide while staying unbeaten on the young season.

Harrell turned in a dominant performance in his debut, earning the win after tossing seven scoreless innings against the Rockies. His second start didn't go nearly as well, as the right-hander allowed four runs off seven hits while lasting just four innings in a no-decision against the Marlins.

"I went back and looked at the video from the first one, and looked at the video from the second one, and there's a few things I was doing different," Harrell said. "My pitch selection wasn't as good as it should have been the second time out. I need to try to get back to what I did the first time out and attack with my fastball and sinker, and get ahead of guys, and then use my other stuff later."

Astros: Maxwell opens with hit against former team
In the Astros' starting lineup for the first time Tuesday night against the Nationals, center fielder Justin Maxwell wasted no time getting on base. Facing the team that drafted him in 2005, and for whom he played 122 games from 2007-10, Maxwell roped a single and was later caught stealing second base.

"I'm excited to get out there and play," Maxwell said before going 1-for-4 in the 1-0 loss. "I think last year in Spring Training it was weird, and playing against the Nationals' Triple-A team when I was with the Yankees, that was kind of weird. And then this year, I played them a couple of times again in Spring Training and it was all business. I think I'm past all the jitters and all the other stuff."

Maxwell is 3-for-8 with a homer and two RBIs since being claimed off waivers by the Astros earlier this season.

Nationals: LaRoche coming through, DeRosa struggling
Adam LaRoche knocked in the Nationals' lone run in Tuesday's 1-0 victory, continuing his solid start in the middle of the Nats' order.

The run-scoring single marked LaRoche's 13th RBI of the season, tying him for the fourth-highest total through 12 games in franchise history. Only Lee Stevens (15 in 2001), Vladimir Guerrero (14 in '00) and Gary Carter (14 in '86) knocked in more runs in the club's first 12 contests.

Mark DeRosa, on the other hand, continued his early-season slump Tuesday. The 37-year-old outfielder went 0-for-3, dropping his average on the year to .080 (2-for-25).

"I know he is going to hit," Johnson said. "I'm not worried about him. It's just a matter of time."

Worth noting
• The 88 strikeouts by Astros hitters are the club's third-highest total ever through 11 games. Only the 1992 Astros (91) and the 2011 squad (90) whiffed more times.

• The only healthy Nationals players to have recorded an official at-bat against Harrell are Rick Ankiel, Ian Desmond and Steve Lombardozzi. Harrell struck out all three in their lone at-bat against the right-hander.

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