WASHINGTON -- Brian Moehler had problems in his first two starts this season with the Astros. He couldn't go longer than 2 1/3 innings and went on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained right knee while carrying an 0-2 record and an ERA of 27.00.

But the Astros liked what they saw from Moehler when he started in Monday's 9-4 loss to the Nationals. Manager Cecil Cooper was hoping for five or six innings, and he got his wish, as Moehler made it through five, leaving with a 4-2 lead the bullpen wasn't able to hold.

Moehler gave up two runs on eight hits in five frames. He struck out five and walked two, throwing 67 of 93 pitches for strikes. He squirmed out of jams in three of the first four innings before Washington scored twice with a two-out rally in the fifth.

Cooper thought Moehler was slipping a bit in the fifth and pulled him after the frame, but the manager was very happy overall, saying that command proved to be the difference between Moehler's start Monday and his previous ones.

"I thought he was hitting his spots good, really good," Cooper said. "His command looked really good. He looked pretty sharp."

Moehler said he would have liked some better things in certain spots, but everything came out all right.

"I felt fine," Moehler said. "The knee felt fine, no problems at all. I wasn't worried about it."

Moehler couldn't find his way in his first two starts this season. The right-hander gave up seven runs on eight hits in 1 2/3 innings of an 11-6 loss to the Cubs on April 13.

He had more problems in his second start five days later against the Pirates, who touched him up for five runs on seven hits in 2 1/3 innings. Moehler hurt his knee in that start and was placed on the DL.

Moehler then missed his next three turns in the rotation with the knee problem. But he made two rehab starts and made it back for Monday night's game. The Astros put relief pitcher Doug Brocail (left hamstring strain) on the disabled list to open a spot for Moehler.

Moehler came into this regular season after a solid Spring Training. He had a 1-2 record but an impressive 1.44 ERA in six starts. The ERA was the Grapefruit League's second best this spring.

Cooper is looking for as much help as he can get from his starters, because the bullpen has been pushed to the limit in recent days. Astros relievers have thrown 18 2/3 innings over the past four games entering Tuesday, and Cooper needs starters to start eating some innings.