The Nationals continued their systematic dismantling of the Miami Marlins with a 6-1 thumping on Thursday afternoon in front of 25,000 freezing Nats fans playing hooky from work and school. Jordan Zimmermann took the mound hoping to extend the Nationals’ shutout streak past 18 innings – and he would, but just another inning.
Zimmermann did, at times, display the new change up he’s been working in the pre-season, and for effect. Justin Ruggiano, though, took a four-seam fastball into the right-field stands on the first pitch of the second inning. The wily righty battled the Marlins lineup for six innings, scattering eight hits, and benefitting significantly from expert defense in the field to keep things from getting out of control.
The Nationals’ offensive machine began to move in earnest against Wade LeBlanc, with Denard Span (1-3, BB, 2R), Jayson Werth (2-4, HR, 2R), Bryce Harper (2-4, R, RBI), and Ryan Zimmerman (3-3, BB 2B, 2RBI) all putting up stellar days. Manager Davey Johnson was quick to credit their approach in the post game press conference, saying, “no matter what we read, we don’t get too far in front.”
The Nationals’ pitching was stellar in the series, surrendering just one run across three games. Asked about the sharpness of the staff, Johnson smiled, “I love my staff, my starters and bullpen both. Every day is going to be a test, but I like how they approach the job.” One approach we hadn’t yet seen this season until today was Henry Rodriguez, who claimed the final spot on the 25-man roster just two days before the end of spring training. He dealt the Marlins in order in the 7th, including a filthy slider to Giancarlo Stanton to end his brief trip to the mound.
After today’s game, the team heads next to Cincinnati to face a real major league baseball team, as the Reds are thought to be one of the few teams with as good a chance at post-season play as the Nationals. The Reds are coming off a 2-1 opening series against the Angels that was tightly contested, with the first game going 13 innings. This will be the first real test of the Nationals’ lineup against a real opponent. The series starts Friday night with Dan Haren making his inaugural start for Washington against Homer Bailey, and continues with two afternoon tilts Saturday and Sunday. Johnny Cueto and Stephen Strasburg go head to head in the latter matchup in what will be an intense pitchers’ duel.