“If I can play [Thursday], I’m gonna play,” Harper said. “If they put me in the lineup, I’m gonna play. I can play with pain and I can tolerate pain, so hopefully there’s nothing that can keep me out of that lineup. . . . Hopefully I can come in and feel like a million bucks and play.”
Lost in the concern over Harper was the dominance of Zimmermann, who picked up a depleted offense by allowing just two base runners. The Nationals were already without Jayson Werth, who fouled a ball off his left ankle in Monday’s game and hasn’t played since, and Ryan Zimmerman, the team’s cleanup hitter, who has been on the disabled list since April 18. Johnson sat struggling second baseman Danny Espinosa, and played Steve Lombardozzi, hoping to jump-start the offense.
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The Nats’ offense only produced three hits (one more than the Braves), but Zimmermann made sure Desmond’s blast would stand. He pitched to contact, throwing 107 pitches, 72 for strikes, and struck out eight. He filled the strike zone with all four of his pitches — even a few change-ups — and walked none.
“I’m very proud, happy with the way the season has started,” Zimmermann said. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the defense, they’ve been doing great. I haven’t been striking many guys out.”
“I thought he was among the elites last year,” Johnson added. “We didn’t get him much run support last year. But he pitched awfully well and he’s taken it up another notch this year.”
Zimmermann followed up the finest pitching performance of his career in the previous start, a one-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds in Washington, with yet another impressive outing. He powered the Nationals to their first win in six tries over the Braves. Johnson didn’t want to pull Zimmermann after eight innings but he wanted closer Rafael Soriano, who hadn’t pitched in four days, to start the ninth. Soriano pitched a perfect inning to notch his eighth save.
“You want to be a stopper, that’s for sure,” Zimmermann said. “We had been struggling the last couple games, and I wanted to go out there and go as deep as I can and try to get a win and stop this losing streak.”
The Nationals could breathe easier Wednesday night. They have finally beaten their heated division foe. Harper escaped a serious injury and Zimmermann snapped their losing streak.