Nationals hit three homers in 4-1 win over Astros

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It took seven rough starts for Ramon Ortiz to remember an important lesson: Speed isn't everything.

Taking a little off his fastball and improving his location, Ortiz pitched his best game of the season Tuesday night, giving a beleaguered Washington Nationals staff a much needed successful and uneventful outing. There were no new injuries to report, and no roster moves were needed after a 4-1 victory over the Houston Astros.

"It's good to see anybody give us a good game," said manager Frank Robinson, who has five starting pitchers on the disabled list. "That was an excellent game for him."

One night after a dreadful performance in a 10-3 loss -- a game in which starter Zach Day left early with a shoulder injury and was placed on the DL -- the Nationals found the resiliency to win for the third time in four games.

Jose Guillen returned to the lineup and drove in what proved to be the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning, and Damian Jackson, Daryle Ward and Alfonso Soriano provided thrills with solo home runs in a ballpark that is becoming a little more homer-friendly by the day.

But Ortiz (2-4) was the real star, allowing six hits, two walks with five strikeouts in his longest outing of the season. He allowed one run -- Morgan Ensberg's 15th homer in the sixth inning -- and has won two straight after going 0-4 over his first seven starts.

"Right now it feels very different," Ortiz said, "my change of speed, my slider, my fastball, good location. Before I tried to throw it 95, 96 [mph], now I try and throw it 90, 92, 93, 88, 89, down and away, down inside. It's better. I'll take it 91 on the inside corner and down and away, instead of 95, 96 in the middle of home plate."

As good as Ortiz was, Astros rookie Fernando Nieve might have been better.

Nieve (1-3) allowed three hits and two runs with no walks and two strikeouts in seven innings, but he gave up the home run to Jackson in the fifth and Guillen's sacrifice fly two innings later.

"We had our chances and we didn't break through," Houston manager Phil Garner said. "Nieve did a nice job, threw a very good ballgame. Actually, he made only one mistake."

Mistakes are becoming harder to overcome at RFK Stadium, where the complaints about potential home run balls dying in the outfield are becoming fewer and fewer. Players grumbled when the Nationals homered in only 35 of 81 home games last year, but they've homered in 13 of 18 home games this season.

Even so, Robinson's not ready to christen RFK as a new launching pad: "You still have to hit it," he said.

Ward certainly did. With the Nationals leading 2-1 in the eighth, he launched a shot that landed about 10 rows into the upper deck in right field, the seventh pinch-hit homer of his career and his second as a pinch hitter this season.

Soriano, the next batter, followed with a drive over the fence in center, his 16th homer of the year and fourth in six games. Ward and Soriano homered off reliever Russ Springer.

Jackson, meanwhile, has home runs in his last three starts: Thursday at Chicago and in the first two games of the series against Houston. Jackson has four RBI in his last 11 games after failing to drive in a run in his first 15 games.

Guillen, on the other hand, did some damage just by getting the ball to the outfield. Back after missing five games with a strained right hamstring, Guillen broke a 1-1 tie by lifting a fly ball to right to score Jose Vidro in the seventh. Vidro had opened the inning with a double off the center field wall and advanced to third on Nick Johnson's sacrifice bunt.

Gary Majewski pitched a perfect eighth inning, and Chad Cordero threw a 1-2-3 ninth for his sixth save.

Game notes
The game lasted 2 hours, 8 minutes, the shortest at RFK since baseball returned to Washington last year. ... The Nationals ended a streak of seven straight games with at least one error. ... Astros 1B Lance Berkman went 1-for-3, leaving him one short of 1,000 hits for his career. ... The Astros are 2-7 in their last nine road games.