Nats using friendly home field to spark turnaround
For a team teetering on the .500 mark all year long, each Nationals win brings with it the question of whether it can start something much bigger. ‘Could this be the one?’ the players are often asked after big wins, victories that seem like they could mean something much more than one game.
But in the Nats’ convincing 5-1 victory over the Rockies on Thursday night, their second in as many games, they made beating an average team look routine. Their ace pitcher dominated and they made offensive chances count. If they are ready to get things going, this is how they should beat teams with less talent top to bottom.
“It’s nice going late into a game and having some runs, having a little cushion there,” Adam LaRoche said. “Played so many games where we’re down by one late or up by one. Yesterday was big, frustrating road trip but a great way to end it and then keep it going tonight. We’re looking to spark something.”
The Nats scored five runs in the win, far more than they needed thanks to starter Jordan Zimmermann. The likely N.L. All-Star tossed eight innings with zero earned runs and struck out a season-high nine batters. It was the third time in his last four outings he’s lasted at least seven innings with zero earned.
Zimmermann came out of the gate on fire with 15 pitches, all strikes, to get out of the first inning. He finished with 85 strikes on 112 total pitches.
“I was throwing strikes and getting ahead of guys,” he said. “They're an aggressive team. It kind of works into my favor. Throw some first-pitch strikes, let them hit the ball and it was definitely a good win and I needed that one after last outing.”
“This is Jordan,” Kurt Suzuki said. “He’s always going to throw strikes. He’s always a guy that’s going to throw strikes. There’s been a few games this year that he’s been like this. It seems like he’s been pitching like this all year.”
Though Zimmermann has been excellent all season with ten wins and a 2.26 ERA, he entered Thursday after one of his worst starts of the season, a six-run drubbing in Cleveland. He was able to bounce back against the Rockies.
“I'm doing the same thing, throwing strikes,” he said. “The last start I was up in the zone and I couldn't locate the fastball. Tonight everything was working.”
Denard Span had a good vantage point of Zimmermann from center field and could tell early on he was in a groove.
“He definitely was mowing,” Span said. “You could definitely tell he was in the rhythm, and when he gets in a rhythm he’s pretty hard to hit, and you know his fastball from center field looks like it just gets on you. He’s going to challenge you, he doesn’t try to mind-trick hitters, or mind-trick anybody. He’s coming after you and he’s not going to waste any time.”
The Nats took pressure off Zimmermann early by scoring their five runs all in the first six innings. Ian Desmond got it started in the second inning with a solo home run to left field, his second in as many at-bats. He won Wednesday night’s game with a grand slam in extra innings.
In the fourth inning the Nats added another score on a Kurt Suzuki RBI single. Facing Roy Oswalt in his first start of the season, Suzuki poked a grounder to the left side of the infield that broke through a diving Jonathan Herrera and Nolan Arenado. It split the defense and was just enough to bring LaRoche home from second with two outs.
LaRoche then broke the game open in the fifth inning with the biggest hit of the night. Span led off with a double and was joined on base by Anthony Rendon who singled. Both runners were then sent around on a LaRoche triple to right-center field. He lofted a fly ball and placed it perfectly into the gap for his second triple of the season and just the 12th of his career.
LaRoche joked about his speed on the play afterwards.
“It’s a lot like wine. It gets better with age. I just get faster with age.”
The Nats won by four and scored at least five runs for the second time in as many nights. But stringing together hit after hit – they had 11 total – to push runs across the plate was a good feeling for the Nationals.
“Hits have been scarce around here and offense just getting things going collectively as a team has been real scarce,” Span said. “We were able to collect some hits back-to-back, you know normally we’ve just been hitting solo home runs, you know scoring one at a time, we were able to put multiple runs in a couple of innings, so that was definitely good.”
With two straight under their belt, the Nats will send Stephen Strasburg (3-6, 2.50 ERA) out for Friday’s matchup. Their newly configured staff could set them up to get a winning streak going, three in a row, for the first time since May 10.