Staked with a lead to protect, Zimmermann dispatched Padres like chaff through a threshing machine. He retired 14 of the first 15 batters he faced, mixing 93-mph fastballs with power sliders and snapping curveballs. Yonder Alonso’s double in the third was his only blemish. Zimmermann threw two strikes for every ball, and his efficient dominance made his first career complete game a vivid possibility.
“I just felt really good,” Zimmermann said. “Wilson and I were on the same page. Every time he put it down, I felt confident.”
Then in the fifth, Zimmermann hung a 1-1 curveball to Orlando Hudson, a 34-year-old hitting .196 with no homers. Hudson clobbered the pitch to the right field seats. The starters’ streak of scoreless innings had been snapped, and the Nationals had allowed only their fourth homer of the season. More urgently, a lead that seemed comfortable turned into another one-run nail-biter.
Zimmermann took the mound for the sixth having lost a touch of the command that allowed him to cleave through the first four innings. Pinch hitter Jesus Guzman led off with a bloop single. With two outs, Chase Headley singled up the middle, giving the Padres two runners on base for the first time.
Zimmermann’s pitch count had climbed to 78. Left-hander Jeremy Hermida stood at the plate while Gorzelanny warmed up in the bullpen. Pitching coach Steve McCatty visited Zimmermann on the mound. “Focus,” he told him.
Zimmermann threw two fastballs and then a change-up, the pitch he developed this spring, and Hermida fouled it away. Zimmermann followed with a 94-mph fastball. Hermida swung through it, and Zimmermann walked off the mound for the final time of the afternoon.
He led by one at that point. As Zimmermann watched the Nationals pile on more runs, no one had to sweat. “Everyone is more relaxed,” he said. In the bullpen a few relievers tossed just to get work in. In the clubhouse, one player yelled from the weight room, “Yeah, baby!” The margin of victory had made them relaxed, sure, but the result still mattered most.
“I mean, 14-4, that’s grooving,” Desmond said. “You don’t get any extra points for beating the guys by 15. We’re just playing to win. It’s fun.”