In 8 2/3 innings this spring, Williams has struck out nine.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Right-hander Jerome Williams feels that he has a tendency to be a slow starter, but in his first spring with Houston, things have been different.

"It's progressing real well," said Williams, who signed a one-year deal on Feb. 6 after three seasons with the Angels. "I think this year, maybe because it's a new beginning with the Astros, I feel more comfortable going out there and pitching."

Williams made his third Grapefruit League appearance -- and first start -- on Wednesday afternoon against the Nationals at Osceola County Stadium. He was able to throw all of his pitches -- fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup -- in his longest outing of the spring.

"Just trying to perfect each pitch, and like I always preach, try to keep the ball down in the zone so I can get those guys behind me to make plays," he said.

That didn't always work in his favor. Shortstop Jonathan Villar made two inning-opening errors on ground balls, and in both cases the mistake helped lead to two unearned runs against Williams.

The 32-year-old gave up six hits and four unearned runs over 3 2/3 innings, although he struck out three and walked none. In 8 2/3 innings this spring, he has struck out nine without issuing a walk, although he has hit two batters.

"I felt like Jerome threw the ball well," manager Bo Porter said. "Defensively, we didn't make some plays behind him that would have made his outing a whole lot cleaner. But that's part of the game, and I felt like he did a tremendous job of continuing to make pitches given that we gave them some extra outs."

Call overturned after Porter challenges

"It's definitely a benefit to have that late in the game," said Porter.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Baseball's new instant-replay system helped the Astros put an extra run on the board in the seventh inning of Wednesday's game against the Nationals, an eventual 10-9 win, at Osceola County Stadium.

With two outs and a runner on second base, Delino DeShields Jr. hit a grounder into the hole between third base and shortstop against Washington lefty Jerry Blevins. Shortstop Jose Lozada went to his right to make the stop and uncorked a long throw to Tyler Moore at first. DeShields was ruled out on a close play, and manager Bo Porter quickly made his first challenge of the game.

"We're in the third-base dugout, and I was able to have a clean look as Delino hit the base before the ball hit the first baseman's glove, so I had a pretty good idea when I left the dugout that he was safe," Porter said. "Our replay crew, they did a great job of getting it down to the dugout right away that he was safe, so it's definitely a benefit to have that late in the game."

Porter made two unsuccessful challenges in three previous spring games that featured instant replay, but this time the call was overturned. The entire process didn't take much more than a minute or so.

"With the modern technology that we have, I think that when the manager leaves the dugout, they have a pretty good idea you're going to challenge, so the video crew is already looking at the angles," Porter said. "By the time the umpires get to the headset, they have a pretty good idea of what the call's going to be."

Overturning the call put runners back on first and third with two outs, and Marwin Gonzalez followed with an RBI single to right field to cut Washington's lead to two runs.

Back in the top of the sixth inning, Nationals manager Matt Williams had challenged another call at first base after Jose Lobaton hit into a double play, but that time the call was upheld, in Houston's favor.

Worth noting

• Left-hander Brett Oberholtzer and righties Chad Qualls, Peter Moylan and Matt Albers all pitched in a "B" game against Astros Minor Leaguers on Wednesday morning. Oberholtzer threw almost 70 pitches and recorded 15 outs, working specifically on getting more consistency with his curveball.

"It's not taking away from anything I do well, like the fastball, changeup and moving the ball and changing speeds," Oberholtzer said. "I got a lot of ground balls today with my fastball and changeup and quite a few strikeouts with the curveball. That's the direction I want to go. I know it's still going to take a little bit of time to get it to where I want it to be, but there's still time."

The other three pitchers, all relievers, threw one inning apiece.

• Williams has been impressed with all of the young arms in camp, as well as the state of young pitching around the league.

"I always joke around, but it's true: If you're in a bullpen in the big leagues not throwing 97 [mph], you're not going to be around. Bigger, faster, stronger, and everybody's throwing harder, and it only pushes me to go harder. I'm a low-90s guy. I want to be up with those guys, but I'm 32, and they're 21."