GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The familiar sight of Ryan Zimmerman taking the field for the Nationals for the first time in 7 1/2 weeks surely was comforting to his teammates, manager and the crowd of 25,291. The unfamiliar sight of him taking his position not at third base, but in left field for the first time in his career, drew plenty of odd looks and moments of wonder. But then Zimmerman did what he really does best — deliver some clutch hits — and ultimately helped lead his team to a blowout victory.
Zimmerman went 2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI in his return from a fractured right thumb. He successfully fielded the only two balls hit his way in left field (a pair of flyballs). And he brought punch to a Nationals lineup that finally is starting to heat up. Jayson Werth drove in two runs with a bases-loaded double. Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon each homered in the sixth to put the game out of reach and give the Nats their 26th run in their last 19 innings against any pitcher not named Yu Darvish.
Jordan Zimmermann took care of the rest. The right-hander tossed eight scoreless innings, scattering five hits and barely breaking a sweat on a warm, muggy night in the District. And so a Nationals club that finally is getting healthy is also starting to play good all-around baseball. This team has now won 3 of 4, all three wins in blowout fashion, and is back at the .500 mark with a 28-28 record.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Forget about all the discussion of his defensive prowess. Let's not forget that Zimmerman is a really good hitter, and his presence in this lineup makes a real difference. He wasted no time re-establishing himself tonight, lacing a double down the left-field line in the bottom of the second (after eliciting a standing ovation from the crowd upon being introduced for his first at-bat off the DL). Zimmerman lofted a flyball down the right-field line his next time up. His biggest contribution came in the bottom of the fifth, after the Phillies intentionally walked Adam LaRoche to bring the just-activated slugger to the plate with two on and two out. Big mistake. Zimmerman roped an RBI double into the right-field corner, once again showing opposite-field power. He just got under a ball in the seventh, flying out to the warning track in center. So for the night, he went 2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI, making an immediate impact on a Nats lineup that has sorely needed him.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Lost amid all the attention thrust upon the new left fielder was a fantastic — and much-needed — start by Zimmermann, who was coming off his worst prolonged stretch in five years. The right-hander had allowed at least four runs in four consecutive starts, raising some red flags. But he set the tone from the very start tonight and cruised. Zimmermann scattered four singles, a double and a walk, keeping the Phillies off-balance and keeping his pitch count to a minimum. That gave manager Matt Williams the luxury of letting his starter go deep into the game for a change, and Zimmermann responded by completing eight innings for the first time this season. Make no mistake, this was an important outing by a pitcher who had not looked this good in some time.
KEY STAT: For his career, Jayson Werth is now 12-for-18 with two doubles, three homers and 16 RBI when putting a 3-0 pitch into play.
UP NEXT: The series continues with a nice matchup of right-handers. Stephen Strasburg gets the ball for the Nationals, trying to pick up where he left off in his last start (a win) vs. the Rangers. Veteran A.J. Burnett is on the mound for the Phillies.