“He competes, he doesn’t care, he’s not afraid,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “He comes after you. He does what he does, and he doesn’t change. It’s not like he’s a plodder — more like a racehorse, a thoroughbred.”
Michael Morse drove in three runs and extended his hitting streak to 18 games with two homers, the first of which appeared to be bound for Phoenix ahead of the Nationals. After three harrowing wins over the worst team in the majors, Zimmermann ensured the Nationals would complete their sweep of the Astros with minimal drama.
With their sixth straight victory, the Nationals matched their longest winning streak of the season. As they dispatched Houston, the Nationals ran the best record in baseball to a 26 games over .500 at 69-43, 4½ games better than second-place Atlanta in the National League East and at least three games clear of every team in baseball. Every win provides a new height.
On Thursday, Zimmermann handled the heavy lifting. He dared the Astros to hit his mid-90s, four-seam fastballs. In the first inning, he threw nothing else. “Until they prove they can hit that,” he said, “I’m just going to keep throwing it.”
To keep them honest, he fired his devastating slider. Zimmermann threw 65 heaters, 20 sliders and only two of anything else. The Astros could not hit his best two pitches, and so he did not bother with anything else.
“I love it,” said Kurt Suzuki, who caught Zimmermann for the second time after being traded from Oakland. “He runs that fastball in there at the upper 90s. The impressive part is, he goes right at you. He ain’t trying to trick you. He ain’t trying to nibble. Here it is. Hit it.”
Zimmermann’s simple, attacking approach overpowered Houston. The Astros swung and missed at 16 of his 87 pitches. He struck out Jose Altuve, one of the best contact hitters in baseball, lunging at a 96-mph fastball over the outside corner. In the fifth, he struck out the side in 16 pitches.
“He’s in attack mode coming out after guys,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s a bear out there.”
Zimmermann allowed an infield single to Marwin Gonzalez with one out in the sixth. Pitching from the stretch, he reached another level. He struck out Steve Pearce swinging at an 85-mph slider. He threw Justin Maxwell an 86-mph slider, a 93-mph fastball and an 84-mph slider. Maxwell swung and missed at all three, flailing at the last one as it buried in the dirt.