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03/07/2013 6:38 PM EST
Gonzalez has 3 scoreless innings in Nats loss
HOUSTON 4, WASHINGTON 2

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) -- Gio Gonzalez tuned up for his World
Baseball Classic start with a strong start for Washington.



The 21-game winner from last season doesn't expect to be around
the Nationals after Sunday when he will join the United States
for the WBC - assuming the Americans advance to the elimination
round.



"I'm still working on stuff, and I felt like I was building more
strength," Gonzalez said Thursday after pitching three shutout
innings in a 4-2 exhibition loss to the Houston Astros. "This
time I was throwing the curveball, throwing the changeup for
strikes, trying to get all three pitches in effect coming up on
the Classic."



The 27-year-old left-hander is set up for Tuesday's start in his
hometown of Miami.



"I've still got more work to do, more tuning up," he said. "I've
still got to go out there and pitch more innings."



He threw 42 pitches against the Astros, giving up three hits
while striking out three, and then threw 23 more pitches in the
bullpen.



"I'm excited," said Gonzalez, who led the major leagues in wins
in 2012 and finished third in the National League Cy Young vote.
"I can't wait to join up with the team in Miami and just have
some fun. Hopefully I can bring something to the team where we
keep it nice and loose over there."



Astros starter Philip Humber gave up one hit in four innings,
and Jason Castro drove in the winning runs with an eighth-inning
single off losing pitcher Ryan Mattheus.



The 30-year-old Humber, who threw the 21st perfect game in big
league history last April 22, took another solid step toward
making the Astros' starting rotation in his second spring start.



"I'm still not where I want to be yet. I didn't throw all that
many breaking balls, but that'll come," Humber said. "We're
still pretty early, but I'm definitely pleased with what
happened today."



So was manager Bon Porter, who is still looking for at least one
more starting pitcher.



"Today was a great day all the way around," said Porter, who had
criticized his team's erratic play earlier this week. "(We had)
attention to detail, and it starts on the mound. ... Humber set
the tone and everybody that came behind him followed it."



Corey Brown's bloop double was the only hit off Humber, who was
released by the Chicago White Sox after going 5-5 season with a
6.44 earned run average last season.



"Right now the hitters are a little behind the pitchers, for the
most part, so when the season comes I'm going to have to throw
more off-speed pitches than I did today," he said. "But it was
definitely a good sign; (the fastball) is the first thing to
come usually and everything else follows after.



"I'm not concerned with results right now. Of course I'm trying
to make my pitches, but . . . I'm focused on the process right
now, and I feel good about where I'm at."



Castro's hit drove in Fernando Martinez, who had two of
Houston's 11 hits, and Rick Ankiel.



Josh Zeid got the win for the Astros.



Michael Taylor drove in both of the Nationals' runs with an
eighth-inning single off Zeid, who relieved Dallas Keuchel with
the bases loaded.



NOTES: Paul Clemens pitched the ninth inning for a save . . .
Houston first baseman Carlos Pena committed the game's only
error when he lost Sandy Leon's high chopper in the sun, leading
to an unearned run. "I just squeezed it too early, I think, or
too late," Pena said . . . Jordan Lyles will start for Houston
on Friday against the Braves . . . Jordan Zimmermann is
scheduled to start for the Nationals against the Cardinals.

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