As Jordan Zimmermann discussed his start against the Braves on Sunday afternoon, an alarm buzzed in the Nationals’ clubhouse to signify the tornado warning across Brevard County. “We got to go,” Zimmermann said. Then he calmly went back to discussing his outing.
In college at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Zimmermann pitched through a snowstorm as a Nationals scout looked on, and his poise helped convince them they should draft him. And so the 30-mph gusts through Space Coast Stadium were not going to deter him Sunday.
“I felt like I was on a ship out there, blowing around,” Zimmermann said. “It’s definitely not very fun to pitch in this weather.”
Zimmermann was mostly dominant, anyway, for the second straight start. He allowed three runs, but only one of them earned, over six innings on six hits and three walks, striking out four. The wind mitigated the effectiveness of Zimmermann’s breaking balls, and so he stuck mostly with his fastball and changeup, the pitch he has gained confidence with all spring.
Coming off a start in which he retired the final 18 batters, Zimmermann continued bulldozing hitters. He walked a hitter in the first and third innings, but erased both with double play balls. Before Andrelton Simmons led off the fourth inning with a single, Zimmermann recorded 27 outs – a full game’s worth – between allowing hits.
“I’m pretty much ready to go,” Zimmermann said. “I definitely feel good. The fastball is right where I want it, and the changeup has come a long ways. I feel like I can throw it any time.
“It feels good to get outs. To have 27 in a row, it means I’m doing something right. I feel good. I’m ready to go. I feel strong. I can’t wait for the season.”
The changeup has been Zimmermann’s top priority all spring. This was the second time Zimmermann faced the division rival Braves this spring, and they have noticed.
“I know [Jason Heyward] came back to the dugout and said, ‘He’s throwing a few more changeups, maybe some cutters and things like that,’ ” Braves outfielder Reed Johnson said. “For the most part, from righties, I think he’s going to stay mostly fastball-slider. Maybe an occasional changeup. Maybe one or two, but nothing really worth looking for. But if you’re left-handed, some of the guys were starting to come back to the dugout saying, ‘He’s throwing his changeup a little more.’ Any time you can add a pitch to your arsenal, as a hitter, it’s one more thing to worry about.”
As the Nationals beat the Braves, 9-3, in seven innings, the wind played a major factor. Braves starter Kris Medlen said he was less comfortable today than in his last start – and in his last start he allowed nine runs and 14 hits. The wind blew out from right to left, and at times Braves right fielder Jason Heyward positioned himself like a softball rover.
During one plate appearance, Bryce Harper walked to bat and told Braves catcher Sam Pagnozzi, “I’m glad I’m not a golfer.”
>>> Harper showed no ill effects from the minor swelling in his left thumb. He smoked three hits in three hits, two singles and a double. Between batting practice and the game, he discarded the rubber pad he wore around his thumb.
“I’ll wear it during BP and in the on-deck circle,” Harper said. “I don’t like the feeling, so I’m not going to use it.”
“I squared up three balls, so it felt good,” Harper added. “If I get jammed, then I’m going to feel. Hopefully that doesn’t happen. It’s making me square balls up. Maybe it’ll work.”
>>> Danny Espinosa continued his strong spring, showing some power to go with his improved ability to make contact. Batting left-handed against Braves starter Kris Medlen, Espinosa roped a wind-aided, line drive home run – his first of the spring – over the left field fence and a single down the right field line. Batting right-handed against a lefty reliever, Espinosa smoked a double to left-center gap.
Espinosa, who remade his left-handed swing this offseason, is batting .349 with an .839 OPS. Apply all caveats about spring training stats, but it has been a very encouraging spring training for Espinosa as he plays through a rotator cuff tear in his left shoulder.
>>> After they got infielder Jeff Kobernus back from the Tigers yesterday, the Nationals received their other major league Rule 5 back today. The Rockies returned left-handed pitcher Danny Rosenbaum to the Nationals after they agreed to a deal with veteran starter Jon Garland. Rosenbaum, who reached Class AA Harrisburg last year, has a 2.84 ERA over four seasons in the minors.