MIAMI – Two players central to the Washington Nationals’ plans began the season puzzlingly slow. Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ star outfielder, declared himself “lost” at the plate after only five games, and his equipment paid the price for his frustration. Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals’ most consistent starting pitcher in 2013, logged only 62 / 3 innings over his first two starts, and didn’t make it out of the second inning in his last outing, the shortest of his career.
But baseball is an everyday sport; funks come and go. Monday night, in a 9-2 drubbing of the Miami Marlins, Harper and Zimmermann showed they are who the Nationals thought they were. Harper went 3 for 4 to lead an offense that thrashed Marlins pitchers for a season-high 16 hits, including 11 for extra bases. And Zimmermann allowed two runs over seven strong innings, striking out seven.
Harper, hitting cleanup for the first time this season, powered the Nationals with two doubles and a triple before leaving the game in the seventh with quad tightness that he and Manager Matt Williams said wouldn’t prevent him from playing Tuesday. The rest of the Nationals’ lineup carried its weight. While Adam LaRoche rested, Tyler Moore started and smashed a home run. Anthony Rendon continued his torrid start, drilling two extra-base hits and driving in three runs. Danny Espinosa added two hits, and Sandy Leon hit his first career home run.
“A lot of guys on our team are swinging it well,” Harper said. “It’s contagious.”
Every starter in the Nationals’ lineup except left fielder Kevin Frandsen had a hit — including Zimmermann, who had two singles. By the second inning, Zimmermann (1-0) had all the runs he needed. The Nationals staked him to a 4-1 lead, and he cruised through the next five.
The Nationals came to Miami on Monday with an opportunity to beat up on a rebuilding division opponent after a sweep at the hands of the division rival Atlanta Braves. Since the start of 2013, the Nationals are 8-29 against that year’s National League division winners — St. Louis, Los Angeles and Atlanta — but entered Monday 85-52 against everyone else.
“They’re enjoying themselves,” Williams said over the thumping music in a buoyant postgame clubhouse. “They enjoy playing the game. It’s good. It’s good for them.”
The Nationals could feel that way after the game in large part thanks to Zimmermann’s right arm. He made his first start of the season battling the remnants of a stomach bug. His second start was a 12 / 3-inning clunker against these Marlins at Nationals Park.
Monday was a different story. Zimmermann was in control from the start. His fastball buzzed by at 95 mph, his slider was inducing swings and misses and he was throwing the ball where he wanted after making an adjustment to his delivery.
“I just told myself in the bullpen not to fly open so much [with his right shoulder] and sit back on my back leg a little more,” he said. “That’s basically it. I went out there and felt good. Felt good in the bullpen. When I got on the mound, it carried over.”
Zimmermann used an efficient 93 pitches to carve through seven innings. Other than the two runs he allowed, his biggest jam was in the fourth, when he allowed a leadoff single to Giancarlo Stanton and walked Jarrod Saltalamacchia with two outs. After a quick mound visit from Leon and Ian Desmond, he got an inning-ending flyout from Reed Johnson, who entered with a career .293 average against the Nationals.
The Nationals’ offense, on the other hand, had little difficulty with Marlins starter Brad Hand. Washington scored a run in the first when Jayson Werth drilled a double that hit the top of the padding of the left field wall and bounced back into play. Werth then scored on Harper’s triple to center.
The Nationals added three more in the second on Moore’s home run and Rendon’s two-run double. Hand got through the third yielding only one run — on Espinosa’s triple.
Harper began the season 3 for 23, without an extra-base hit or an RBI, just one walk and 10 strikeouts. Since, he is 13 for 23 with five extra-base hits, four walks, six strikeouts and five RBI. He bounced around the lineup for much of the first two weeks, but as injuries struck key middle-of-the-order hitters, Harper was hitting fourth on Monday against the left-hander Hand.
Harper led off the fifth and seventh innings with a double. In the seventh, however, Desmond hit a groundball to shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, and Harper tripped over his own foot as he ran toward third. Harper made it to third safely, but his run was awkward and he was replaced in the bottom of the inning in center by rookie Steven Souza Jr. Harper said his quad has been tight since Friday.
“Getting treatment every day and it feels fine,” he said. “Ready to go [Tuesday].”