Having used seven relievers in Saturday’s extra innings loss to the Minnesota Twins the Nats needed Jordan Zimmermann to go deep in game one of Sunday’s doubleheader. As he has done all season long Jordan Zimmermann looked like the Ace he was drafted to be pitching seven innings allowing no runs on a measly two hits with seven strikeouts and two walks. It could be said that this was a great start, but most starts by Jordan Zimmermann have been this season. After this afternoon’s contest he is averaging over seven innings a start and has a 2.00 ERA.
The game didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts for the Nationals, a team that has struggled to score runs all season and has been bleed dry by tiny mistakes. The first of the Nats mistakes came in the top of the third inning when Anthony Rendon, not wearing sunglasses, lost a pop-up in the high sky and dropped it allowing Clete Thomas to reach base with Escobar, the previous, batter having walked. With two outs and having retired the last five by strikeout Jordan Zimmermann picked up his teammate and struck out Ryan Doumit to end the inning.
At the moment the pop-up was dropped Nats fans around the ballpark had that sense of here we go again. Jordan Zimmermann is going to pitch brilliantly and tiny mistakes are going to kill the Nats. This was compounded when in the bottom of the inning with one out Jeff Kobernus got his first major league hit, an infield single. Steve Lombardozzi, a hitter known for his contact, was due up next and with Kobernus running and having second stolen he ripped a ball to center. Kobernus lost sight of the ball and failed to return to first when it was caught. There were two mistakes on this play. The obvious one by Kobernus of not properly reading the fly ball, but the second and less obvious error was on Lombardozzi for swinging at all. Kobernus had second stolen and Lombardozzi was ahead in the count. He didn’t need to swing and the Nats would have had a runner in scoring position with one out and Lombardozzi at the plate and Zimmerman scheduled to bat next.
Speaking of runners being in scoring position in the bottom of the fourth inning Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche both hit one out singles to give the Nationals runners first and second with Ian Desmond coming up. Desmond would make it three straight singles and with Werth having a good jump off second Trent Jewett sent him home. It looked as if he would score easily as he rounded third just as the ball was reaching the outfield grass but then Clete Thomas came up with it and fired a perfect strike to Ryan Doumit who was waiting for Werth at the plate. Werth dove in hard, attempting to jar the ball loose, but it was of no use and he was out. For the second time in this game a teammate was waiting to pick his team up, and with two outs Anthony Rendon smacked a single to short stop that Florimon made a great play to keep in the infield, but then an ill advised throw that allowed a second run to score.
This wouldn’t be the last the Twins would hear from Anthony Rendon on the afternoon, but more importantly Jordan Zimmermann continued to do work on the mound. In the top of the fifth with the Nats having just taken a two run lead Ryan Zimmerman made his tenth throwing error of the season. With one out and an base runner Jordan Zimmermann was no deterred and got Escobar out on a soft fly out to right and Thomas on a grounder to LaRoche. It was the second error made behind Zimmermann on the day and it was the second time he picked his teammates up.
The bottom of the fifth would begin and end with Jordan Zimmermann making outs. The first time on a ground out to the short stop and the second time on a swinging strike, but none of that is important. What is important is what happened between. The Nats coming into this game have the worst OBP in baseball and have drawn five walks in their last seven game. With one out Jeff Kobernus worked back from a 1-2 count to draw the first Nats walk of the afternoon. That was followed by a Steve Lombardozzi fielder’s choice and as the rally was about to fizzle there Ryan Zimmerman laced a double off the right field wall, the Twins intentionally walked Werth, LaRoche drove in Lombardozzi with an infield single, Desmond drove in Zimmerman and Werth, Rendon smacked a double the other way down the right field line scoring LaRoche and Desmond, and Suzuki walked before Zimmermann returned to the plate to make the final out of the inning.
This was the game the Nationals have been searching for. Great pitching, timely hitting, and domination of a team and a pitcher they should dominate. Unlike the Nats have done against other high ERA pitchers they made Scott Diamond look, not like a Cy Young contender, but like a pitcher worthy of the 4.66 ERA he entered the game with. Tuesday’s walk-off winning was thought to be the start of the Nats turnaround, but perhaps that was a few days too early and this was it. The Nats batters hit well and must be looking forward to another chance to stand in the box, and they only have to wait until 7:05 tonight to do so. Whether this is the start of something or a statistical blip will be proven out quickly.