The Nationals sprayed hits all over the field in a 10-3 thrashing of Miami at Marlins Park on Monday night.
Meantime, Jordan Zimmermann fired the first nine-inning complete game of his career; he mowed through a lackluster Marlins lineup with 103 pitches to give his bullpen a needed day of rest.
A great deal of good happened for the Nationals — but it was hard to watch without the overwhelming feeling that they were operating on a different level from their opponents.
The Nationals were upbeat even after Sunday’s shellacking at the hands of the Braves, who swept them in a disappointing weekend series. In a game of streaks, the Nationals appeared ready to start a new one Monday.
“We don’t live in the past,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “We don’t worry too much about things. We take it one day at a time and this was a perfect example.”
Ian Desmond tore through Marlins pitchers, smacking four hits, including two doubles.
Ryan Zimmerman drove in four runs, crushing his first home run of the season, a two-run shot off the first pitch he saw from reliever John Maine in the fourth inning.
Tyler Moore, starting for Adam LaRoche, drove in three runs. Every starting position player except Bryce Harper had at least one hit. In fact, they all at least notched two.
Making his third start of the season, Zimmermann plowed over the Marlins, striking out six batters. He faced the minimum and needed only 48 pitches to get through the first five innings.
The Marlins, one of the worst hitting teams in the majors, were jumpy and aggressive, no match for the strike-firing Zimmermann.
Miami fielded a lineup that has mustered only two home runs, or the number Harper hit against them in the first game of the season. Their powerful slugger Giancarlo Stanton, off to a slow start in a lineup that offers him little protection, didn’t play because of a sore shoulder.
Washington’s 4-0 lead in the first inning encouraged Zimmermann to pound the strike zone with his fastball.
Zimmermann’s sole blemishes came in the sixth and seventh innings, when he allowed three runs and prompted a visit from pitching coach Steve McCatty.
After the eighth inning, closer Rafael Soriano started getting loose in the bullpen. At 98 pitches, Zimmermann told Johnson that he felt fine and could finish the game.
Johnson, who has kept a tight leash on most of his starters early in the season, wanted to hold Zimmermann to 115 pitches. In five pitches, he completed the final inning, the first Nationals starter to do so this season.
Zimmermann’s last complete game came on June 29, 2011, at Los Angeles, when he lost, 1-0, to Dan Haren, now a teammate.
“It means a lot,” Zimmermann said. “It means I’m doing my job staying in the ballgame and putting up zeroes. That’s the kind of pitcher I want to be. I want to be a workhorse and someone that can eat up innings and stay out there as long as possible.”
Sensing an opportunity to play his capable but little-used bench players, Johnson inserted Moore into the lineup. The woeful Marlins gave Johnson an opening to handle one of the toughest tasks he knows he will face this season: finding enough playing time to keep everyone sharp.
Against left-handed starter Wade LeBlanc, Moore validated his start. He bashed a two-run single in the four-run first inning and a towering double in the third inning.
“I was a little surprised when I saw my name in the lineup today but that’s why Davey is so good of a manager,” Moore said. “He’s loyal to his players, he believes in them and he gave me an opportunity today. I was just glad to get the start and get some knocks out of the way.”
After allowing six runs, LeBlanc was chased from the game by Zimmerman’s presence alone. Marlins Manager Mike Redmond didn’t want a struggling LeBlanc to face Zimmerman, a tormentor of left-handers, so he called on right-handed reliever Maine. His first pitch, an 89-mph fastball, landed among the fans drinking in the bar along the left field fence. Zimmerman rounded the bases gingerly, nursing a minor cramp in his hamstring, He would finish the game.
The Nationals have two more games against the Marlins this week, and 15 more this season. Another dose of the Marlins will only help push this past weekend further into memory.
“It’s just a matter of being more consistent and that comes with time,” Desmond said. “You can’t expect to be great right off the bat. It takes time to sculpt and build a team. Obviously we’ve got some new additions, so we’ve all got to figure each other out, and it’s going to take some time. But today was a great step in the right direction.”