SD@WSH: McLouth drills a solo homer to right field

HOUSTON -- This is why the Nationals signed Nate McLouth.

With Bryce Harper down because of his sprained left thumb, the veteran McLouth is back as a regular in a Major League lineup, albeit as more of a platoon player than he's been in the past.

The former All-Star and Gold Glover hopped down I-95 after two seasons in Baltimore, and now he's Washington's best hope to replace Harper's youthful abandon.

His time as a spot player so far this season was rough by traditional metrics, including a 4-for-36 line at the plate entering Wednesday. But he's got one of the lowest batting averages on balls in play at .107, an almost ridiculous outlier for the statistic. He's also drawn more walks than strikeouts. These aren't the typical signs of a struggling hitter.

"It's early on and you don't always have a rhythm in those spot at-bats," he said. "Stay with your swing and they'll keep falling eventually. I haven't been dribbling the ball to first every time."

McLouth was not in Wednesday's lineup against Houston, and manager Matt Williams said the platoon approach will be more common without Harper.

"We have to adjust," he said. "We're going to get in situations where we want to try to stack the lineup. Giving [Adam] LaRoche a day off already, we want to have a bunch of guys from the right side against their lefty [Brett Oberholtzer].

"Nate and multiple other guys are available for late-game situations. It's any given day right now."

McLouth pinch-hit in the ninth inning of Wednesday's 7-0 victory and flied out to right for the first out.

LaRoche sits out with sore right quad muscle

WSH@HOU: LaRoche hits an RBI single for the lead

HOUSTON -- The Nationals' hero in Tuesday's 4-3 win against the Astros did not get the same chance on Wednesday.

Adam LaRoche did not start the final game of this two-game set in Houston because of a nagging sore right quadriceps. The lefty aggravated the injury on his eighth-inning double that tied Tuesday's game at 3. He brought home the winning run an inning later with a one-out single.

The injury is nothing new for LaRoche, who also missed a game last week while nursing the quad.

"You don't want to take him out of the lineup, but it's probably better to give him two days of rest, with the off-day coming [Thursday]," said manager Matt Williams. "Get some rest, try to calm this down a little."

LaRoche is in the midst of a torrid run-producing stretch, driving in seven runs and collecting 10 hits in his last seven games. Given that production, Williams said he'd rather be cautious.

"It's long-term thought," Williams said. "Over the course of the season, we're going to need him. I don't want to get him in a situation where he's out for an extended period."

LaRoche was available to pinch-hit and was even considered for the designated hitter slot with the Nationals in an American League park, but he was not called on during the club's 7-0 victory.

"That's almost worse because he sits for potentially two innings and then he hits a ball in the gap and has to get going and it's tight," Williams said. "[Tyler Moore] plays well [at first base] and [the Astros] have a lefty [in Brett Oberholtzer], so we stacked the lineup with righties."

Knorr quite familiar with Astros, Houston

Randy Knorr played three seasons (1996-97, '99) in Houston.

HOUSTON -- Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr might know the Astros -- and the city of Houston -- better than most who sit on the visiting bench in Minute Maid Park.

Knorr spent three seasons with the Astros during his playing career (1996-97, '99) and either played for, played with or coached with nearly half of Houston's current coaching staff.

"I loved this city and I consider it one of the better baseball cities out there," Knorr said. "There was a lot of excitement around our club."

Knorr was a backup catcher on two separate Astros division championship teams, including the '97 team, who reached the playoffs for the first time in 11 years and just the third time in the franchise's history.

"That was my defining memory, when we dogpiled on each other," Knorr said, pointing at the pennant in left field honoring that title. "I was traded from Toronto after winning two World Series and I knew the Astros were working toward a championship. I had been through that phase already, and I think we left our mark here."

Knorr played with Astros third-base coach Pat Listach and special assistant to the general manager Doug Brocail during his time in Houston.

Listach was also Washington's third-base coach for two seasons (2009-10), and Houston manager Bo Porter was actually Listach's replacement from 2011-12 before taking over as the Astros' skipper. Houston pitching coach Brent Strom coached on the staff of the Astros' 1996 team when Knorr played.

His Houston connections run deep, though Knorr laments that series like these are the few times he gets to reconnect with old teammates and co-workers.

"It's probably not as hard to keep up as we make it, but you don't forget about these guys," Knorr said. "I still have a great friendship with Pat and a lot of respect for the times all of us had. I'm thrilled to see Bo with his own team out there."

Though the Astros' recent fortunes haven't matched Knorr's time -- or even the Nationals' current contending ways -- he did point out one major upgrade.

"This ballpark," he said, motioning to Minute Maid Park's open roof. "The Astrodome was just kind of bland, there it is, like so many of those dome parks. The fans were great there. But this place, I'd love to throw the uniform on and play a few more games here."