Nationals Notebook

Despite First Rough Outing by Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals Are Not Discouraged

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 2, 2009

Jordan Zimmermann is a rookie pitcher, which just about assures that last night's start -- the first rough outing of his career -- won't be the last rough outing. For that reason, the Washington Nationals aren't inclined to judge the 22-year-old by the three home runs he allowed in the 6-2 loss to St. Louis. Nor are they inclined to judge him by the glaring mistakes, especially that 3-1 fastball to Albert Pujols in the first. Rather, they'll watch how Zimmermann responds to those mistakes. How he fights back.

That's why the Nationals, after Zimmermann's 5 2/3 -inning, five-run performance, saw further affirmation that he is the real deal.

Said Manager Manny Acta, "I mean, if this is going to be a bad start -- going 5 2/3 innings, and being hurt by real good hitters on mistakes -- we're happy."

Zimmermann learned the hard way that Pujols feasts off pitches that don't hit their targets. In the first inning, with the count 3-1 on Pujols, catcher Jesús Flores called for a pitch out of the strike zone. ("We pretty much wanted to walk him," Acta said.) But Zimmermann missed, throwing a fastball down the middle. Pujols did not miss. That fastball turned into Pujols's ninth homer of the year.

But what did Washington want to watch? How Zimmermann responded. The next pitch, to Chris Duncan, was a 96-mph fastball, a called strike.

"I just went back on the mound and went after the next guy," said Zimmermann, who is 2-1.

"He's a bulldog," Acta said. "He'll go right after guys, and we like that. I don't think that every time he makes a mistake, with his kind of stuff, it will go out of the ballpark. But it happened today."

Dukes Commits Gaffe

One night after getting picked off first base, Elijah Dukes committed another base-running gaffe, this time getting thrown out at third on a grounder to shortstop. The situation: With nobody out in the fourth, Dukes, who had just reached on a double, watched Flores bounce one to St. Louis's Tyler Greene. The classic base-running rule dictates that you don't try for third on a ball hit in front of you. But Dukes took off. He was thrown out.

"You also have to understand, he's young and he's got a lot of potential, but he's not a finished product yet," Acta said. "That's going to happen with young players."

Bard Opts to Stay Put

Though an opt-out clause allowed Josh Bard the chance to become a free agent, the catcher, demoted to Class AAA Syracuse on April 19, elected to remain with the organization. Bard will continue to catch with Syracuse.

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