WASHINGTON -- On the strength of back-to-back-to-back home runs, the Nationals pounded the Astros, 8-2, at Nationals Park on Sunday afternoon.
It was a game in which right-hander Stephen Strasburg -- making his second start of the season -- left after pitching three innings.
In the first inning, Strasburg threw 31 pitches and allowed an RBI single to Carlos Lee.
"That first inning, I thought those guys did a great job," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "I thought our approach was real good. We got that pitch count up to 31 pitches in the first inning and were able to get that run. Doing that was the approach that we were trying to use and the guys did a good job with it."
In the following inning, Strasburg allowed a leadoff single to Matt Downs, but the Astros didn't do any further damage. However, manager Davey Johnson was concerned when he noticed that Strasburg's velocity was down. Johnson believes the heat played a role in the drop-off.
In his third and final frame, Strasburg set down the side in order. In his three innings, Strasburg gave up three hits and struck out four. He threw 57 pitches, 39 for strikes, and left the game with a 5-1 lead.
"It seemed like everybody was having good at-bats, taking him deep into the count, seeing some pitches, fouling off some tough pitches. We did well," said Carlos Lee, who drove in the only run charged to Strasburg with a first-inning single.
Johnson said Strasburg didn't come out for the fourth because he was scheduled to throw 70 pitches and Johnson didn't want to take him out in the middle of an inning. Strasburg also spent a lot of time in the dugout when the Nats scored four runs in the third inning.
According to the skipper, Strasburg was surprised to be taken out after three innings.
"He said, 'Just three," Johnson said about Strasburg's reaction. "I said, 'Yeah, just three.' But I expected that.
"After he threw a lot of pitches during the first inning, he settled down. He was actually feeling better. In the second inning his velocity dropped a little bit, I think, because it was hot out there. I explained to him, 'I don't want to [take you out during an inning]. As far, as I'm concerned, it's like your second time out in Spring Training. That's enough for me. You are not going to go five.'"
Strasburg, who has a lot of trust in his manager, never questioned Johnson's decision. It helps that Strasburg played for Johnson during the 2008 Olympics.
"I felt pretty good. I went out there and I kind of rushed a little bit," he said. "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. That's how it's going to be sometimes. You are not going to go out there and be perfect every time."
Washington scored its first run against right-hander Henry Sosa in the second. Chris Marrero drove in Jayson Werth with a sacrifice fly to right field to tie the score at 1.
In the next frame, the Nationals powered their way to the lead. Ian Desmond gave Washington a 2-1 lead when he led off with a home run over the left-field wall. It was Desmond's eighth homer of the year.
Rick Ankiel followed and hit his ninth home run of the season, a solo shot over the left-center-field wall. Ryan Zimmerman then came to the plate and hit a ball that landed in the center field bleachers for his 12th home run of the season.
"I think the nicest thing about all that is we finally had the lead," Desmond said. "All series and the last two series, we have been behind and defensive. So today, we all wanted to make sure that we stayed aggressive. 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."
The three consecutive jacks marked the first time the Nats accomplished the feat since July 2009.
The final run of the inning came four batters later when Danny Espinosa came home on a double by Marrero.
By the end of the seventh inning, the Nationals had scored three more runs. In the sixth with Jordan Lyles on the mound, Desmond scored on single by Zimmerman.
Right-hander Lance Pendleton was on the mound in the seventh when Washington scored a pair of runs. Marrero scored on a single by pinch-hitter Laynce Nix, while Wilson Ramos came home on a single by Desmond.
The Nationals improved their record to 67-77.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.