Nats start fast, hold off late Astros' rally to win

Nationals 7, Astros 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ryan Langerhans is one of many Washington Nationals who don't know exactly what their role will be with the rebuilding team.

With one swing of the bat Wednesday, Langerhans provided an example of what he can do -- and the winning margin in Washington's 7-6 victory over the Houston Astros.

"It feels good, getting that hit in a close game and giving us a big lift," said Langerhans, whose three-run homer in the fifth inning helped Jason Bergmann (2-5) win for the first time in more than two months. "I've got to be more consistent with it, not just do stuff like that every now and then."

The lefty-hitting Langerhans, already traded twice this season, had been platooning in center field with the right-handed Nook Logan. But with Langerhans struggling at the plate, Logan started against righty pitchers in the first two games of the series against Houston. And making things more muddled in the outfield, Alex Escobar, sidelined all season, is expected to join the Nationals by next week and play in center every day.

Langerhans is "very useful," manager Manny Acta said. "He can play the three outfield [positions] and throws well. He's got some pop, as everybody saw today."

Someone will have to be taken off the roster to make room for Escobar. Factor in that last-place Washington wants to build for the future and that the July 31 trade deadline is approaching, and the status of more than one player is up in the air.

"You just have to remove yourself from that," said Langerhans, who was in a 2-for-23 rut before his first-pitch homer off Jason Jennings (1-6). "All anybody can do is go out there and play and let that stuff take care of itself."

Langerhans' homer was his fifth since arriving from Oakland on May 2. It made the score 7-2 and came after Jennings walked two batters.

"That's something you can't do -- put guys on base and give up the one big hit," said 2002 NL rookie of the year Jennings, who lost his fifth consecutive start, the worst stretch of his career.

When Bergmann dumped a single to shallow center with two outs in the fifth, it meant every player in Washington's starting lineup had at least one hit or one run scored.

Bergmann, meanwhile, earned his first victory since May 14, when he took a no-hitter into the eighth against Atlanta. After that start, though, the right-hander went on the disabled list and has struggled since his return.

He gave up solo homers to Mike Lamb in the second inning and Luke Scott in the fifth. Then, in the seventh, Houston scored four runs -- and nearly tied the game, but first baseman Dmitri Young threw out Lance Berkman at the plate to end the inning.

Bergmann departed after giving up consecutive singles to Lamb and Scott to open the seventh. Both eventually scored, and it was 7-5 with Chris Burke on third and Berkman on second when Carlos Lee hit a hard shot to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Burke scored as Zimmerman's throw to first pulled Young off the bag. Berkman rounded third and headed for home, but Young's throw to catcher Jesus Flores beat him easily.

"It was a big play, right there," Flores said.

Berkman said he went on his own, rather than being sent by third base coach Doug Mansolino.

"It's one of those deals where if you're safe it looks like a good play -- and if you're out, it looks like a bad play," Berkman said.

Their big lead down to one run, the Nationals held on, thanks to a perfect eighth from Jon Rauch and a scoreless ninth from closer Chad Cordero, who earned his 17th save. The Astros put the potential tying run on third with two outs on a throwing error by Zimmerman and a wild pitch, but Hunter Pence grounded out to end the game.

"I actually thought we were going to tie it up," said Houston manager Phil Garner, whose team has lost seven of its last eight road games.

Game notes
Nationals second baseman Ronnie Belliard's RBI double in the second made it 4-1 and extended his hitting streak to 11 games, matching the longest for any Nationals player in 2007. ... Young's single in the third extended his hitting streak to 10 games. He entered the day leading the NL with a .341 batting average and increased that to .342. ... Zimmerman said his right wrist was fine after being smacked by Pence's ball in the ninth.