Against right-handers, Zimmerman has a career .277 average and an .806 on-base plus slugging percentage, a formidable line. But this was the matchup Ventura wanted, against Zimmerman who entered the game hitting .222 but with five RBI. After working a full count, Zimmerman deposited Axelrod’s 103rd pitch to the warning track in right field. It was the first change-up Axelrod had thrown a right-handed batter all game. The White Sox’s plan backfired, and the minefield of the Nationals lineup had won again.
While Johnson believed the intentional walk lit a fire in Zimmerman, the third baseman played down the motivation.
“If I’m the manager I’d rather pitch a righty against a righty instead of a lefty but obviously Bryce, you don’t want to pitch to Bryce right now,” he said. “. . . I think it was just more of a matchup thing. I wouldn’t pitch a righty against Bryce right now either.”
Harper insists he wasn’t surprised by the move, a sign of respect for his ability in only his second season in the majors. He is used to being walked intentionally in high school and junior college, but the last time he was purposely put on first base in professional baseball was in 2011 in low-Class A Hagerstown.
“First base open,” he said. “Hitting righties pretty good and in a good spot to walk. So nothing I can do.”
Haren got his chance at redemption after stewing over his disappointing first impression for five long days. After allowing six runs and four homers in four innings against Cincinnati in its bandbox of a ballpark, Haren gave up 10 hits but limited the impact with only three runs. Haren allowed no home runs and walked none.
“I made a few less mistakes today, but I still got work to do to get better,” Haren said.
Mattheus pitched out of his own jam in a one-run sixth inning by striking out Paul Konerko looking on a wicked bending slider with two runners on base. He pitched a scoreless seventh inning and Johnson asked Clippard to set up in the eighth. After back-to-back saves, Johnson called on Soriano to test how often he could use him. Soriano fired a scoreless final inning and forcefully untucked his jersey. Another opponent had been vanquished, in large part to the potent lineup spearheaded by Harper, and now the Braves pitching staff awaits.