WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals had managed just four runs in losing four straight and were facing one of baseball’s top pitchers Tuesday night.
Instead of becoming overly aggressive at the plate, they chose wait out Houston starter Dallas Keuchel, and it worked.
Anthony Rendon doubled twice and drove in three runs, and the Nationals held on to open a six-game homestand with a 6-5 victory over the Astros.
“I think just be patient. See the ball up, and try to put the barrel on it. That’s what our game plan was,” Rendon said. “Let him pitch up. I think he leads the league in ground ball outs . and we just wanted to see the ball up and not give in to his game.”
Keuchel (8-4), the American League leader in ground ball/fly ball ratio (3.84) coming in, was 6-1 with a 1.33 ERA over his last seven starts, but struggled with his command.
“He’s a good pitcher. You’ve got to make him get the ball up,” Ryan Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman, who came in 9 for 50 since coming off the disabled list, added two doubles and two RBIs.
“When you don’t play for as long as I did and you come back, it’s hard to be consistent, but I’ve been playing for a little while now and I’m starting to get back into a groove,” he said.
Tanner Roark (6-4) pitched five innings in winning his third straight start. Rafael Soriano worked the ninth for his 14th save.
Houston’s Jose Altuve returned to the lineup, going 4 for 5 with two doubles and two RBIs. He was limited to one pinch-hitting appearance in the last three games after being hit on the right hand by a pitch.
Houston trailed 6-1 before scoring four in the eighth off Tyler Clippard, the last two on a double by Altuve, who is hitting .370 (17 for 46) in June.
Keuchel allowed four earned runs on six hits and a season-high four walks, striking out four in five innings. It was the shortest outing since April 5 for Keuchel, who tied his season high in runs allowed while picking up his first road loss.
“I was kind of battling, trying to find my stuff all night,” he said. “I felt fortunate enough to get through five.”
Houston has lost three of four overall and 11 of its last 12 against Washington.
Roark gave up seven hits and walked two, but minimized the damage when the Astros loaded the bases on three singles leading off the fourth.
After Roark fanned Jason Castro, Matt Dominguez hit a grounder that deflected off Roark’s foot into right field, scoring Altuve to pull Houston within 4-1. Roark rebounded to get Jonathan Villar on a fly to shallow left before striking out Robbie Grossman.
“It was a grind. Just one of those nights,” Roark said. “I couldn’t get ahead, but came up with some big pitches. And of course we come out early and score runs so it takes a lot of weight off.”
Washington scored four in the first three innings.
Denard Span broke a 0 for 18 skid when he opened the first with an infield hit. He scored on Rendon’s double. With one out, Zimmerman doubled to drive in Rendon and make it 2-0.
The Nationals doubled their lead in the third when Zimmerman doubled home Jayson Werth and scored on a single by Ian Desmond.
“I think you look at the difference in the ballgame is their ability to hit with men in scoring position early in the game,” Houston manager Bo Porter said, “and we let some opportunities slip away early in the game with men in scoring position.”
Rendon made it 6-1 when he doubled in two runs off reliever Kyle Farnsworth in the sixth.
NOTES: Washington OF Bryce Harper took two-handed swings Tuesday for the first time since injuring his left thumb April 25. Manager Matt Williams said Harper hit soft toss pitching in the indoor batting cage Tuesday and the goal is to evaluate him on the field this week. Williams pointed to “beyond July 1” for Harper’s return. … Porter coached third base for the Nationals from 2011-12. Tuesday was his first visit since Washington dropped the decisive Game 5 of the 2012 NL Division Series to St. Louis after leading 6-0. “It hurt,” he said of that loss. “I would say it still hurts.” … Nationals LHP Gio Gonzalez (3-4, 4.62) returns Wednesday from the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation) and opposes RHP Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.98).
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