VIERA, Fla. (AP) Bronson Arroyo boosted his comeback attempt with three perfect innings in the Washington Nationals' 4-3 loss to the Houston Astros on Thursday.
The 39-year-old right-hander struck out three and walked none. The strikeouts were consecutive, with Arroyo retiring Mike Duffy, Preston Tucker and Jon Singleton in a stretch from the second to third innings.
In his first outing, Arroyo gave up two runs and four hits in two innings.
Arroyo has not pitched in the major leagues since 2014 with Arizona. He had Tommy John surgery in July 2014.
''That was vintage Bronson Arroyo,'' said Nationals manager Dusty Baker, who managed the pitcher for six seasons in Cincinnati.
''He was mixing speeds, different breaking balls. They said he only took two signs that he would change speeds off of. That's how you pitch. I mean, that's pitching right there at its finest.''
Arroyo, who signed a minor-league contract with the Nationals, is competing for a spot at the back end of the rotation this spring. While the real test will come as he tries to stretch out to five and six innings later this spring, he was pleased with his results Thursday night.
''When you have a guaranteed contract and you're on the ballclub, it's like results don't matter at all,'' Arroyo said. ''You go out there, you try to get your work in and feel things out.
''For me, it's a little bit of both. I've got to feel good, and at the same time, get results. It was nice to have nine batters up, nine down. I'm feeling more comfortable on the mound as we go.''
Astros: Collin McHugh worked on his changeup while throwing three scoreless innings. McHugh allowed only two hits, both to Ben Revere.
Astros: RHP Jandel Gustave was hit in the left wrist by a ball off the bat of Bryce Harper in the third inning, but remained in the game.
Nationals: The team continues to take a precautionary approach with Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis), who has been taking part in fielding drills and batting practice, but not doing any running. He still plans to get 45-50 at-bats this spring.
''I'm not worried about that at all,'' Zimmerman said. ''Instead of jumping right out into games, we're taking the extra week or 10 days and making sure it's really ready. I think it's a very intelligent approach.''
Astros: Scott Feldman gets the start as Houston hosts Detroit and Michael Fulmer.
Nationals: Stephen Strasburg makes his second spring start against the New York Mets and Steven Matz.
GONZALEZ HOMERS ... AGAIN
Houston's Marwin Gonzalez homered for the second straight day, a two-run drive in the fourth against Washington's Trevor Gott.
PEREZ, ESPINO TO WBC
Nationals left-hander Oliver Perez will play for Mexico in next week's World Baseball Classic qualifier, while right-hander Paolo Espina - who was reassigned to minor-league camp Thursday - will play for Panama.
''They're in a tough situation,'' Baker said. ''Your countrymen are depending on you, but we're depending on you, too. What's more important? Our season or playing for your country? I urge them all, play for your country.''
Baker doesn't want Perez or Espina to throw ''too many innings'' or on consecutive days. The manager also said there were several other players who could have played in the WBC ''but we chose not to let them go.''
NATIONALS MAKE CUTS
The Nationals optioned INF Wilmer Difo, LHP Matt Grace and RHP Taylor Jordan to Triple-A Syracuse. The team also reassigned Espino, RHP Taylor Hill and catchers Randy Read and Brian Jeroloman to minor league camp.