There were plenty of high points from the Nationals’ 5-1 win today at Roger Dean Stadium over the Marlins, perhaps their most crisp performance this spring, starting with the outing Jordan Zimmermann called “the best one I’ve had this spring.”
Zimmermann pitched five scoreless innings, allowing three hits, including an infield single, and a walk while striking out three. Zimmermann has still yet to allow an earned run in 11 innings this spring, during which he’s walked three and struck out eight.
His best performance came today. Zimmermann felt good about all of his pitches, but he had particular confidence with his curveball. He recaptured the feel for the pitch, which led to an effectiveness and consistency with the curve he hadn’t discovered earlier in the spring.
“The first couple starts, it was hit or miss whether it was going to be good or not,” Zimmermann said. “I had a good feel today. Every time I got the call, I knew it was going to be a good curve.”
Zimmermann has torn through a Marlins lineup similar to the one he faced today before. Last year, in his second start back from Tommy John surgery, Zimmermann allowed one hit and faced the minimum over six innings while striking out nine. In three starts against the Marlins, he’s got a 3.60 ERA.
The success may make the Nationals slot Zimmermann fourth in the rotation, allowing him to start the first game of the Nationals’ second series of the year, which is in Florida. But, according to Zimmermann, it’s also mostly coincidental.
“No clue,” Zimmermann said. “I just look at every team the same. It just happens to be the Marlins are the team I throw the best against, I guess.”
>>> Danny Espinosa bounced back from a scary moment to spark an excellent defensive performance from the Nationals. In the first inning, Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco threw Espinosa a high-and-inside fastball. Espinosa ducked down, and the pitch drilled in the top of the helmet.
“It didn’t really square me up,” Espinosa said. “It was more surprising than anything.”
Espinosa crumpled to the ground as athletic trainer Mike McGowan and Manager Jim Riggleman rushed from the dugout. Espinosa repeated he was fine, but he stayed down, a little stunned by the first time he’d ever been with a pitch in the head.
“He seemed OK,” Riggleman said. “He just wanted to take his time.”
When Espinosa walked slowly to first, McGowan administered tests to check for signs of a concussion. Cleared to play, Espinosa stayed in the game.
In the third inning, Espinosa one of the best defensive plays of the Nationals’ spring. Bryan Petersen shot a groundball up the middle. Espinosa made a backhand stab behind second, leaped and fired to first to nab Petersen, a fast runner.
The played keyed what Riggleman called “our best defensive game this spring.” Adam LaRoche made a fine scoop on a one-hop throw by Espinosa to complete a 6-4-3 double play. Alex Cora played a strong shortstop. By Nationals regulars and contenders to make the team, it was virtually a flawless game in the field.
>>> Rick Ankiel went 2 for 5, including a two-run double to left-center off left-handed reliever Randy Choate. The double off Choate by Ankiel, who in his career has hit .232 against lefties, was a sign that he may be settling in after a slow start. Ankiel has six hits in a team-high 31 at-bats, five of them – including three home runs – for extra bases.
“He’s starting to find his groove a little bit,” Riggleman said. “He’s got a lot of things to offer to the ball club.”
One more thing: The game began with an interesting moment. Nyjer Morgan came to bat for his first at-bat all spring against the Marlins, a team he’s got some history with. The crowd at Roger Dean Stadium booed. Ricky Nolasco jumped ahead of him 0-2, and then hit home flush with a fastball.
Morgan walked to first base, occupied by Gaby Sanchez, the player who clotheslined him during last year’s brawl. They nodded at each other, the game continued without incident. Nolasco told Florida reporters that the pitch was not intentional, and Riggleman did not want to address the matter, saying only Nolasco knew his intent.