The Nationals had several reasons to be encouraged following Wednesday’s 2-0 win over the Atlanta Braves. They finally beat their division foe for the first time in six meetings this season, and first in 10 games dating from last year. Bryce Harper, the lineup’s most potent bat, had an injury scare that appeared far more serious than it later turned out to be. Ian Desmond smashed the game-winning two-run home run in the fourth inning to rescue a beleaguered offense. Jordan Zimmermann fired eight two-hit innings, running his scoreless streak to 18 innings and vaulting him to the forefront of any conversation about baseball’s best and most consistent starters.
‘We needed that one bad and he went out there and pitched a blueprint game,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “That was outstanding.”
Another encouraging sign, however, was (un)tucked into the ninth inning. Johnson said hooking Zimmermann after 107 pitches was tough but that was the right-hander’s highest pitch count of the season and he prefers that relievers start an inning clean and not inherit runners. So Johnson called to the bullpen for closer Rafael Soriano to finish the game. In the midst of a three-game losing streak, Soriano hadn’t pitched in four days so the work was welcomed. He successfully, and almost too easily, notched his eighth save of the season.
Soriano, a former Braves closer from 2007 to 2009, needed only 17 pitches to mow down three Atlanta batters. Of his 11 strikes, five were looking, his second-highest total of the season. Soriano painted the corners of the strike zone and froze batters with the sharp movement of his pitches. Against an aggressive team, he fired all fastballs and cut fastballs and struck out one and induced two groundouts. In the final at-bat, he threw nothing close to the middle plate against Andrelton Simmons, challenging him towards the edges.
After a shaky start to the season, Soriano has been dominant. In his last seven scoreless appearances, he is 5 for 5 in save opportunities, opponents are hitting .091 against him, he has allowed only two hits and walked two. He also slashed his overall ERA to 3.27.
Soriano stumbled earlier this season when he felt off because of a minor mechanical breakdown. He wasn’t throwing his slider well and his command was slightly off. Since April 9, the last appearance in which he allowed runs, his command has been far better, his slider more effective and his results much improved. The Nationals signed him to a two-year, $28 million deal this offseason to further solidify the end of games with his veteran presence and proven stuff. Over the past three weeks, Soriano has shown that.
“We want to continue to get better,” Desmond said. “Win or loss we don’t want to stay stagnant on our heels, playing sloppy baseball. we want to continue to show that we’re making improvements. That’s what’s important early in the season. Just to continue to get better.”
On Wednesday, there were some continued signs of it.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
New Britain 4, Harrisburg 0: Brian Broderick allowed four runs on 10 hits over seven innings and struck out six. Jerad Head, Justin Bloxom and Destin Hood each went 2 for 4.
Carolina 3, Potomac 2: Ryan Zimmerman rehabbed and went 0 for 3. Robbie Ray tossed five innings and allowed two runs on four hits. He walked four and struck out seven. Brian Dupra fired a scoreless sixth and Tyler Herron (1.35 ERA) allowed only two hits over the next three. Richie Mirowski allowed the losing run. Adrian Nieto hit his second home run, a two-run shot, of the season.
Hagerstown 5, Augusta 3: Ronald Pena allowed three runs, two earned, on three hits over five innings. Christopher McKenzie tossed two scoreless innings of relief and Brian Rauh notched the save. Wes Schill went 1 for 4 and drove in three runs. Shawn Pleffner and Stephen Perez each added an RBI.