For six innings last night, the Nationals played pretty much as well as they can play. They made every play in the field, Jordan Zimmermann scythed through the Marlins, they pounded out hits and ran the bases with smarts and aggression. It was quite a performance. The Nationals made the Marlins look like they were still on their all-star break.
After six innings, Johnson hooked Zimmermann for Henry Rodriguez. The game slowed a bit, and the Nationals’ thoroughly dominating performance sagged. Johnson took out Zimmermann after just 87 pitches because Zimmermann had not done anything more than play catch over the break. He also thought a 5-0 lead would be the right time to get Rodriguez eased into the second half.
Rodriguez struck out the first batter he faced, Hanley Ramirez, after fighting back from a 3-0 count. And then he did not record another out. Rodriguez walked the next two batters, and then a bloop single from John Buck drove in a run and ended Rodriguez’s night.
“I always have a little concern with Henry,” Johnson said. “The layoff probably affected him more, a power pitcher. He wasn’t as sharp as I’ve seen him before. … I’m counting on him to get like he was when he was closing. He had a really good run there.”
Michael Gonzalez entered with runners on the corners and one out. He escaped with one pitch. Austin Kearns smoked the ball back at his shins. Gonzalez snagged the ball and fired to first for a double play.
Gonzalez had a little luck on that play, but he has been a reliably effective reliever since joining the Nationals. He has allowed two earned runs in 12 2 / 3 innings, striking out 13 and walking six. He hooked on with the Nationals via a minor league contract early in the year. With Drew Storen coming back, the Nationals will need to jettison one reliever. It will be difficult to choose.
“In not too short a time here, it’s going to be a tough decision,” Johnson said.
Johnson continued his bullpen roulette in the eighth inning, using both Ryan Mattheus and Sean Burnett. By the time Tyler Clippard pitched a scoreless ninth, Johnson had used five relievers for the game’s final nine outs.
“My bullpen was a little rusty,” Johnson said. “I wanted to give them a chance to get the rust off.”
Johnson said Burnett felt tightness in his left arm afterward. He did expect it to turn into anything serious, but the Nationals will monitor it.
In a non-bullpen note, Johnson still thought Ian Desmond looked to be addled by left oblique soreness. “I saw Desi still being bothered by his left side in the ballgame,” Johnson said. “That concerned me a little bit.”