Nationals give Zimmermann help on route to win
Jordan Zimmermann has pitched as well as anyone in baseball through the season's first two months, and more often than not the Nationals have needed it. Only once during his previous six starts had Zimmermann's teammates provided more than three runs of support.
So imagine how the right-hander felt when he looked up at the scoreboard at Nationals Park after five innings Friday night and saw a "5" listed next to the home team's name.
"Definitely nice to get a five-run cushion tonight and kind of put it on cruise control," he said.
And cruise Zimmermann did, churning out seven quality innings against the Phillies and riding the rare run support to a 5-2 victory that made him the NL's first 8-game winner.
Yes, a Nationals lineup that has struggled so mightily to string together hits managed to put up a 4-spot in the bottom of the fifth, three of those runs coming with two outs to energize a crowd of 28,980 on a surprisingly chilly late-May night on South Capitol Street.
Even more surprising: Much of that rally was sparked by the bottom of the Nationals' lineup, from the likes of Kurt Suzuki, Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi, a trio that entered this game sporting a collective .205 batting average.
"You've got the pitcher in the lineup, but you can't have a couple other [empty] spots in the lineup," manager Davey Johnson said. "That'll just kill your offense. Certainly we have the talent to do it. They just have got to do it. It's that simple."
The Nationals made it look simple enough against Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick, putting 13 men on base during his five innings of work, the biggest blows coming during his final frame. They actually trailed, 2-1, when they stepped up to bat in the bottom of the fifth but quickly tied the game on Adam LaRoche's RBI triple off the center-field wall.
Yes, LaRoche's triple, only the 11th of his 10-year career.
"That one there, I think anybody's getting a triple out of that," LaRoche cracked about his drive off the wall that then ricocheted backward past a lunging Ben Revere.
The rally could have ended after that, especially when Ian Desmond struck out looking at a borderline 3-2 pitch from Kendrick. The Nationals have become accustomed to settling for one run rather than going for the jugular, and frequently that has come back to haunt them.
"I mean, we know a couple runs is nothing here," LaRoche said. "I don't care who you've got on the mound, there's stuff that can go wrong and they can throw up two runs in a hurry. So the more, the better."
The Nationals produced plenty more that inning. LaRoche scored on an RBI single to left by Suzuki, bumped up to the 6-spot in the lineup for the first time. Moore beat out a grounder to the left side, and then Lombardozzi delivered the final shot, a two-run double to right-center.
That capped a three-hit night for Lombardozzi, given a chance now to start at least several days at second base with Danny Espinosa sidelined by a fracture in his right wrist.
"Seeing Lombo come in there and get three hits and drive in some runs, that was huge," Johnson said.
Huge, because with Zimmermann on the mound, there was little doubt the 5-2 lead would hold up. The right-hander, battling a stiff neck, went out and faced the minimum in the sixth and seventh innings before departing at 92 pitches. He wasn't at his very best, but he was more than effective enough, issuing zero walks while striking out only one and letting his defense do the work.
"I'm going to throw it over the middle and let them put the ball in play," he said. "I don't know how many groundball outs I had, but it seemed like a lot. Those guys were playing great defense behind me, and a couple double plays really helped out."
And unlike a couple of occasions during their just-completed West Coast trip, the Nationals didn't have to hold their breath late. Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano retired all six batters they faced, closing this one out without so much as making anybody sweat.
For that, they could thank a rare display of offensive firepower from a lineup that hadn't done anything like that in a while.
"To score five runs ... we've been kind of stuck on none or one or two," Johnson said. "So that was big. Big shot in the arm for the offense."