Poor Zimmermann start rescued by Harper, Werth HRs

Poor Zimmermann start rescued by Harper, Werth HRs
April 9, 2014, 11:00 pm
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(Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Where to begin? We'll start with Jordan Zimmermann, who was downright awful in getting roughed up for five runs in only 1 2/3 innings, putting his teammates in a quick 5-0 hole. Slowly but surely, though, the Nationals got themselves back into it. Craig Stammen was brilliant out of the bullpen, keeping the game within reach.

Bryce Harper then got the Nats on the board in a big way, launching a 3-run homer deep into the cold April night in the bottom of the fourth. His teammates added another run in the fifth, then two more in the sixth to take a 6-5 lead. Safe to assume their bullpen held that lead? Not exactly. Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard each gave up a run in the seventh and eighth innings, leaving the Nationals trailing once again.

And then the combination of Jayson Werth at the plate and Carlos Marmol on the mound flipped the script one last time. Werth crushed a grand slam off the beleaguered Marlins reliever, sending what remained of a crowd of 21,190 into a frenzy and earning Werth a curtain call. Rafael Soriano finally closed out a wild win, though he brought the tying run to the plate, leaving the Nationals 6-2 and in first place in the NL East heading into tomorrow's series finale.

[MORE: Zim tries new throwing motion]

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: It was only a matter of time before Harper got himself going. And once he did tonight ... oh my lord. The slumping slugger completely destroyed a pitch from left-hander Brad Hand, the ball eventually landing five rows deep. In the third deck. Yup. Even more impressive, the towering home run came at the end of a fantastic, 10-pitch at-bat for Harper, who at one point fouled off five straight pitches. And yet ... that became a footnote at night's end thanks to Werth. His grand slam off Marmol soared into the left-field bullpen and put the Nats ahead for good.

PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Zimmermann's disastrous start figured to be the story tonight. Then Craig Stammen's gutsy 3 1/3 scoreless innings of relief figured to become the highlight. But then the back end of the Nationals bullpen took over and changed the storyline yet again. Handed a 6-5 lead in the seventh, Storen immediately served up a homer to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Clippard entered a tie game in the eighth and immediately issued a walk, then another. Was it any surprise those free passes came back to haunt him? Garrett Jones' double, which skipped off first base, proved the difference in a game that featured some poor pitching performances from both bullpens.

KEY STAT: Zimmermann's 1 2/3-inning start was the shortest of his big-league career.

UP NEXT: The series wraps up with a late-afternoon, 4:05 p.m. matchup at Nationals Park. Stephen Strasburg, bumped up in the rotation to pitch on normal rest, gets the start for the Nats and is still seeking his first win of the young season. Young right-hander Tom Koehler starts for Miami.