But Zimmermann led the way. He allowed four hits over six scoreless innings, striking out six while walking only one. He baffled the Marlins with sliders and curves and overpowered them with his fastball, which zipped at 95 mph. He retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced, striking out five. All four hits he allowed were singles, two of them bloops into the shallow outfield.
“He’s Mr. Consistency,” Zimmerman said. “You know what you’re going to get out of him. He doesn’t ever get too emotional. He’s the same guy every time.”
Zimmermann is often dominant and always durable. He has thrown at least six innings in 18 of 18 starts, a feat matched in the major leagues this year only by Justin Verlander. Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez made the All-Star Game, but Zimmermann leads the Nationals in innings (116 1/3) and ERA, which he lowered Friday to 2.48.
The Nationals (50-34) know they will eventually shut down Strasburg for the season because of a to-be-determined innings limit. “I’m going to be stubborn when it comes to that,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. They will lose one of their two aces, but they may have another emerging in Zimmermann.
“No question about it,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “Last year, I thought he pitched like a No. 1. He’s continued this year. He’s grown up even more.”
Zimmermann cruised Friday night. He spotted his four-seam fastball where he wanted to, and he could throw both his curveball and slider. His curve breaks vertically and curls slowly into the plate, giving hitters a different look than his biting, high-80s slider. “I feel like I can flip [the curve] in there and get ahead of guys,” Zimmermann said. “The slider is kind of my out pitch.”
The Nationals broke out spiffy red batting helmets on the road, a nod to the Senators of Frank Howard’s vintage. They wore them well. The offense gave Zimmermann ample support, spotting him five runs and knocking out Marlins ace Josh Johnson in the sixth inning.
In the third inning, Zimmerman gave the Nationals breathing room and continued the tear he started in the two weeks prior to the break. He lambasted a 3-1 slider from Johnson, sending it clattering off the psychedelic home run merry-go-round erected behind the left-center field fence. The Marlins estimated it landed 399 feet from home plate, and it put the Nationals ahead, 3-0.