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CIN@WSH: Jackson fans nine in complete-game victory

When they added Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson over the winter, the Nationals knew they had the pieces to comprise a top-notch starting rotation. They couldn't have possibly expected that hope to come to fruition so soon, though.

Stephen Strasburg, fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA through three starts. Jordan Zimmermann, who held the Astros to one run in seven innings on Wednesday, is 0-1 with a 1.29 ERA. Gonzalez has yielded just four earned runs in three outings. Even Ross Detwiler, the fifth starter, is carrying a 0.90 ERA.

The group's youth might make its stellar start even more impressive. Jackson, Thursday's starter and the rotation's elder statesman at 28, has looked worthy of the $11 million contract the Nationals handed him during the offseason. In two starts, he has allowed just four runs and has struck out 15 in 14 innings.

In his last outing, Jackson tossed a complete game against the Reds, allowing just one run on two hits.

"We've never seen him that fine," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Usually he has a wild period in there some place, but he didn't have that at all today. I even asked the umpire one time, 'Are we that bad or is he that good?' He said, 'Hey, he was that good.' He said everything was moving. He was sharp. Everything looked like a fastball, and then it would be a breaking ball in the dirt. He made us look badly today."

In all, Washington's starters have surrendered just 15 earned runs in 13 outings.

"They're a good ballclub," said Bud Norris, who will oppose Jackson on Thursday. "They've got pitching and a lot of things going their way."

Houston's hurlers have held their own as well.

Norris has tossed a quality start in both of his outings this year, and has posted a 3.46 ERA. The right-hander noted a laundry list of keys to slowing down a Nationals team that is off to a 10-3 start.

"You've got to go out there and expect them to battle," Norris said. "You can't have the big inning. You make your pitches and get ground balls. ... You've got to make adjustments in this game."

Astros: Bogusevic does extra hitting work
Outfielder Brian Bogusevic spent extra time in the batting cage on Tuesday to find a solution to his hitting woes. He's batting just .121 this season.

"If you're struggling, you can kind of take a step back a little bit and relax, but at the same time you get a lot of work," Bogusevic said Wednesday. "The last day or two I've gotten a lot of work in the cage."

Bogusevic worked with hitting coach Mike Barnett on trying to find a batting stance and an approach that works for him.

"It's looking for comfort," Bogusevic said. "Whether you're working on one thing, being wider or more narrow [in your stance], you're trying to find comfort. That's what I've tried to do the last couple of days in the cage, and I do feel more comfortable."

Nationals: Wang takes next step in recovery
Chien-Ming Wang will start a rehab assignment within the next five days. The right-hander, rehabbing from a left hamstring strain, threw 35 pitches in a simulated game on Wednesday in Viera, Fla., and reported no problems.

With the Nationals' rotation off to such a great start -- Jackson possesses the highest ERA of the bunch, at 2.57 -- manager Davey Johnson isn't sure what role Wang will occupy when he returns to the big league club.

"It's kind of a nice problem, being that crowded," Johnson said. "No doubt about it, but that is going to be a [general manager Mike] Rizzo problem."

Worth noting
• Nationals reliever Henry Rodriguez notched his third save in as many chances on Wednesday. He has not allowed an earned run through seven appearances.

• Astros outfielder Travis Buck left Wednesday's game with a mild strain of his left hamstring, suffered on an RBI groundout. He is day to day.

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