Jordan Zimmermann finished. In spring training, Zimmermann identified finishing his starts as the area he wanted to improve on most. Before last night, Zimmermann had ventured past the sixth inning 21 games in his career, and in the seventh inning he had compiled a 10.43 ERA and a 1.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio – by far his worst of any inning.
Zimmermann cruised into the seventh yesterday despite a 25-pitch first inning. “That was the best I felt all year,” Zimmermann said. “I had command of everything. You have some starts that you feel really bad, and you have some starts that you feel like you can get anyone out. That’s the kind of stuff I had tonight.”
In the seventh, Todd Frazier led off with a single, and Zimmermann needed to strand him in order to keep the game tied. “It was definitely huge,” Zimmermann said. “I wanted to put another zero. I had to execute some pitches.”
Frazier moved to second base on the fateful passed ball that knocked Ramos out of the game and out for most of the season. With Jesus Flores behind the dish, Zimmermann struck out Ryan Ludwick, his ninth and final whiff of the night. Two groundouts later, Frazier had been stranded and Zimmermann, at 105 pitches, had polished off a start how he wanted.
“Zim kind of grew up tonight,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He was kind of tired, and he pitched a great seventh inning. That basically won the game for us.”
Henry Rodriguez was amazing. When Rodriguez is on, he makes your eyes bulge out of your head and wonder if you are watching a movie, or maybe a video game. His pitches appear to be laser guided, straight from his right hand over the corner and into the catcher’s mitt. Last night was one of those nights.
Rodriguez struck out all three Reds he faced – Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick – on a total of 10 pitches. He began the ninth with eight consecutive strikes, only one pitch away from an Immaculate Inning save. He bounced a fastball to Ludwick, then came back with a slider in the dirt that Ludwick could not check his swing on.
“Henry was awesome,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I think he was trying to out-do [Aroldis] Chapman.”
Rodriguez hit 100 miles per hour twice with his fastball and 99 three times. He got five swinging strikes, four with his fastball and one, the final strike, with his curve. Rodriguez secured his eighth save with a performance that could not have been more dominant.
“He’s feeling more confidence in himself,” Flores said. “The more he gets the chance to close a game, he’s going to be good. Personally, I liked the way he threw his breaking ball tonight. Fastball, he was hitting the corner very well.”
Danny Espinosa looks like he’s pulling out of his slump. In the sixth inning, Espinosa smoked the first pitch reliever Jose Arredondo threw, a sinker, 397 feet to right field, his second home run in as many days. Espinosa had gone 104 at-bats between homers. Now, he has hits in four straight games, and he’s showing signs of giving the Nationals a power threat they have sorely lacked.
“I think he’s kind of got his swagger back out there,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “He’s free and easy. The barrel is flowing through the zone. It’s not really forced. It’s got a little bit of whip in there. It looks like he’s back. A little confidence doesn’t ever hurt anyone.”
Espinosa made an adjustment to hit his home run. In his first at-bat, starter Mat Latos pounded him with fastballs inside, and he struck out looking on a front-hip fastball that darted over the inside corner (or maybe not quite over the corner, but Latos got the call). Arredondo tried to come inside, too, and Espinosa was ready. Both his home runs have come on the first pitch, which Espinosa said is a product of not wanting to miss a pitch he can drive.
“I want to stay aggressive,” Espinosa said. “I don’t just want to let them groove pitches in there and flip bad offspeed pitches up there and let them get away with it. I’ve done that before, and it’s buried me in a hole. I’m just trying to be selectively aggressive.”