The Nationals picked up their eighth straight victory on Saturday afternoon against the struggling Orioles and climbed to within a win of a .500 record. They did it today on the bats of Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman, each of whom had a towering shot. Zimmerman struck in the bottom of the first with a tape measure blast to left field that tied the game at one, and Morse struck a two-run shot, his thirteenth, in the sixth, putting the Nats ahead for good.
Jordan Zimmermann, despite struggling a bit in the first few innings, put together 6 1/3 IP of 2-run ball, and picked up his 5th win. His record is now 5-6, and his ERA dropped just slightly to 3.08. Drew Storen saved his 17th game of the season, facing just three batters in the 9th. Henry Rodriguez came in to pitch 1.2 IP in the 6th and 7th, and pitched the Nationals out of a nasty jam in the sixth. Rodriguez sent Adam Jones down on just three pitches, two 83-mph sliders sandwiching a 101-mph fastball. As Mark Zuckerman said, “That’s just not fair.”
The Nationals have a very good shot at getting back to .500 tomorrow, which would represent two weeks of superlative baseball, with the team winning 13 of 18 to return from 9-games-under .500 on May 30th. Currently, no Nationals team has ever come back to .500 from more than 4 games below, so a return from 9 games below the line would be nothing short of outstanding. A win tomorrow would also put them in sole possession of the second longest streak of wins since the team returned from Montreal, and just a game shy of the longest streak since baseball returned to the Nation’s Capital in 2005.
Asked about the chance to get back to even, Manager Jim Riggleman said, “It’s very significant… it was a target for us 3 weeks ago.” He went on to say, “We’re not going to catch the Phillies tomorrow, we’re not going to catch the Braves tomorrow,” but it’s clear that this has been a season-long goal for the team. Returning to .500 would be the latest in a season the Nationals played at .500 since 2005. In 2008, they didn’t make it past the first week of the season at more than .500. In 2010, they finished May 31st at .500 and never returned. In 2006, 2007 and 2009, they never made it above .500.
Stars: It’s hard to choose between Mike Morse (2-4, HR, 2RBI) and Ryan Zimmerman (2-4, HR, 2R) for who had the better day. It’s easier to just say they’re both playing good ball right now, and it’s a joy to watch. Henry Rodriguez has easily the best day on the mound for the Nationals, and one of the strongest performances of his tenure with the team. His slider was doing filthy things today, and it was hard not to notice the brutality of his fastball in comparison. Jerry Hairston, Jr.
Bars: Jordan Zimmermann had a rough first three innings, going to 2-0 counts on 7 of his first 12 batters and running up 46 pitches in his first 3IP. He was only tagged the once, by Adam Jones, but as good as he was in San Diego, this was a step back. It’s good to see, though, that the meeting on the mound with the trainer, pitching coach and manager was a miscommunication and not a warning sign. Ian Desmond was 0-4 today, and Jayson Werth wasn’t much better, going 0-3 with a walk.
Notes: Orioles’ starter Luke Scott left in the fourth with back spasms. As a sufferer, I say, “Ouch.” The crowd of 36,614 makes it a near certainty that the Nationals will hit 100,000 in attendance for their weekend series.