The Washington Nationals have been prospering this season by playing precarious baseball, and on a chilly Wednesday night, the trend continued in a 3-2 victory over Houston that included the go-ahead run in the eighth and another gem from starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann.
Before 14,520 at Nationals Park, Zimmermann yielded one run over seven innings for the third consecutive time this season. Yet the hard-throwing right-hander continued to absorb some hard luck record-wise, remaining 0-1 despite an ERA of 1.29 and having permitted 13 hits and two walks over 21 innings.
The Nationals, however, won for the third straight time and for the eighth time in nine games. Catcher Wilson Ramos helped Washington improve to 5-2 in one-run games with a sacrifice fly for the decisive RBI, scoring Adam LaRoche with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth.
Washington had tied the score at 2 when Jayson Werth battled back from a 2-2 count to draw a walk that allowed Danny Espinosa to score. Henry Rodriguez pitched a perfect ninth for his third save to keep the first-place Nationals (10-3) ahead by 2 1/2 games in the NL East.
“It’s good for this team to get wins like that, especially early in the season,” Werth said of the narrow margins. “Like I said, I think it was yesterday, we’ll take the wins as we can get them right now, and hopefully they’ll keep coming.”
The Astros (4-8) went ahead temporarily in the eighth when center fielder Jordan Schafer singled with two outs to score catcher Jason Castro from second. By that time Zimmermann was out of the game in favor of Ryan Mattheus, who allowed two hits and one run in one inning but improved to 2-0.
Trailing by a run through six innings, the Nationals finally got to Houston starter Lucas Harrell (62 / 3 innings, four hits, one run) in the bottom of the seventh. Center fielder Rick Ankiel set the stage with a one-out double and advanced to third on a balk.
Ramos struck out, but Roger Bernadina lined a double to left field to score Ankiel easily. Steve Lombardozzi pinch-hit for Zimmermann, who departed after throwing 86 pitches, including 59 for strikes, and allowing three balls out of the infield.
Lombardozzi drew a walk, and Bernadina stole third on the fourth ball to provide Ian Desmond with runners at the corners. The Nationals’ leadoff hitter popped out to first though to end the threat.
The Astros dented Zimmermann in the fourth, beginning with a leadoff infield single from Schafer. The ball came off the center fielder’s bat gently, and both first baseman LaRoche and Zimmermann had a play on it. LaRoche wound up fielding the dribbler and tossing to his teammate covering first, but it was too late.
Schafer ended up on second shortly thereafter following his sixth stolen base, and he advanced to third on Jed Lowrie’s groundout to first. Left fielder Travis Buck grounded weakly to first one batter later, allowing Schafer to race home to put Houston ahead, 1-0.
First baseman Carlos Lee singled with two out, but Zimmermann escaped without further damage when right fielder Brian Bogusevic grounded to second base.
“I felt great again,” Zimmermann said. “Ramos called a great game, and we stuck to the game plan most of the game. The fastball was really good tonight, and I was able to mix in some breaking pitches when I needed to, and the defense did a great job behind me in making some big plays when we needed to.”
Washington nearly tied the game in the fifth when Ramos walked to start the inning. Bernadina struck out before Zimmermann bounced a ball to third, where Chris Johnson was playing in anticipating a bunt.
Ramos was able to reach third on Johnson’s throw to first, and Desmond promptly drove a ball to the deepest reaches of center field that had Schafer in a full sprint toward the wall. Schafer, however, was able to make the catch on the warning track just short of the 402-foot marker.
“The ball club knew I expected us to be a heck of a ball club and to contend,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. “They’re just reinforcing what we all believe by playing tough in close ball games and winning close ball games.”