In the fourth inning of the Washington Nationals’ 5-1 win over Miami on Saturday night, Marlins third baseman Martin Prado lined a ball back at Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann, who collapsed to the ground, trying to catch it as he fell. He missed it, and as he lay on the ground, he slammed his glove against the mound in frustration. He thought he should have caught the ball, physics be damned.
Nationals Manager Matt Williams and trainer Lee Kuntz came out to check on Zimmermann, who waved them off dismissively. He now had two men on with no one out, and far bigger problems than a bump or bruise. Undeterred by the shot, unhappy about its outcome, he retired the next three hitters.
Moments like those are typical Zimmermann, unchanged by tribulations, unwilling to excuse failure or be consumed by it. He has endured a few more ups and downs this season than last, and he maneuvered around a few through seven one-run innings Saturday night. By the end, he had his 11th win — a crucial one that gained the Nationals a game in the National League East standings. They now trail the New York Mets, losers of two straight, by 5
“We talked a lot about this game today, and he executed really well” Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos said. “Especially with runners in scoring position, he attacked the hitter really well.”
Zimmermann allowed four earned runs or more four times in the first four months of the season, but he was threatening to allow four earned runs or more for the fourth time in August. Sometimes, he flew open, his fastball sinking and running from its mark. He gave up nine home runs from April through July. He gave up nine home runs in August alone.
Saturday, he stayed on line with home plate, which allowed his velocity to jump to 96 at times — as high as it has been all season. The Marlins found hits anyway. He allowed the leadoff man to reach in the first and second but escaped unscathed. Runners reached second in the third and fourth but didn’t score.
“We can’t really tell if he’s upset or if he’s happy or whatnot. He just beared down,” left fielder Clint Robinson said. “When he got in trouble tonight, he made pitches.”
Zimmermann, who tagged his Marlins counterpart Tom Koehler out at the plate after a ball bounced away from Ramos in the third, did not send the Marlins away in order until the sixth. He did not cruise, but he crafted.
“If there’s a guy on first or second, I’m trying to get a groundball, get a double play, some popups, just anything but hits,” Zimmermann said. “I have guys on first and second, I’m trying to get a double play. When I have to throw strikes, I try to go for the strikeout, and was able to get that.”
The Nationals gnawed at Koehler, scoring first on a blast by Ryan Zimmerman in the second. They blew it open in the sixth. Robinson, getting a rare start because Michael A. Taylor is still out of the lineup after bruising his knee Thursday, hit a two-run homer. Ian Desmond followed that with a solo shot, the second time the Nationals have hit back-to-back home runs this season. Both times came in August, with their lineup near full health. Desmond has 10 home runs in his past 37 games, 17 total, and 12 total stolen bases.
Nationals players have said since March that with this rotation, four runs or more would be enough to win more often than not. The rotation, including Zimmermann, has been good, but not dominant. Sometimes four has been too few.
Zimmermann’s ERA is nearly a run higher than it was last season. His strikeouts are down and his walks are up, though minimally, and he is allowing more walks-and-hits per inning pitched than last season. Saturday, he bounced back from a tough stretch with one of his strongest outings.
“He’s done the same thing for six years. He’s consistent. He knows what he’s good at and sticks with it,” Zimmerman said. “If you’re going to beat him, you’re going to have to beat him on his stuff, and he doesn’t really veer too far away from that. That’s what makes him so good.”
When Justin Bour hit a no-doubt homer to lead off the seventh, he did so because Zimmermann would not budge. When Zimmermann missed with a first-pitch curveball, he went to his best pitch, the fastball, unwilling to fall behind 2-0. Bour hit it. The next batter, Marcell Ozuna, hit a groundball back at Zimmermann. The pitcher snared it with hard-to-believe nonchalance and threw Ozuna out at first. He finished that inning, and his outing, at 106 pitches, 72 of which were strikes. His Nationals struck enough to make it stand up, and to close the gap in the National League East.