Sep 11, 2013, 10:00 PM EDT
Game in a nutshell: For the third straight night, the Nationals got a dominant performance from their starting pitcher early against the depleted Mets lineup, with Dan Haren tossing six scoreless innings of 1-hit ball. But they couldn’t breathe easy, stymied for five innings by rookie Zack Wheeler before Ryan Zimmerman clubbed a solo homer in the sixth. Anthony Rendon’s two-out, two-run double in the eighth provided some much-needed cushion — and represented the Nats’ first hit in nine tries with a man in scoring position — and the bullpen took over from there to secure the club’s fifth straight win. The Nationals have now won 22 of their last 31 games, but with the Reds’ earlier win against the Cubs, they remain 6 games back in the NL Wild Card race with 17 to play.
Hitting highlight: It’s been a disappointing season for Zimmerman, both offensively and defensively, but he’s shown some significant improvements in both areas of late. At the plate, Zim has suddenly rediscovered his power stroke, blasting seven homers in his last nine games. Incredibly, he just went through a stretch when his last six hits all were home runs. In the field, Zimmerman also has started producing highlight-reel plays on a nightly basis. Most impressive, though, is his throwing accuracy and velocity, which have improved by leaps and bounds over the last month or so. Perhaps that surgically repaired shoulder finally is healed. The on-field evidence certainly suggests it.
Pitching highlight: After a month of dominance but then back-to-back ragged starts, who knew what to expect from Haren tonight? Turns out he reverted right back into top form, tossing a gem. The right-hander issued a second-inning walk to Josh Satin and a fourth-inning single to Juan Lagares. And that was it. Over six splendid innings, Haren struck out eight and mixed in all of his pitches to keep the Mets completely baffled. The only surprising aspect of the evening: Davey Johnson’s quick hook of his veteran starter. Despite his dominance and a pitch count of only 86, Haren was removed in the top of the seventh in favor of pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi.
Key stat: Jayson Werth has recorded multiple hits in 26 of his last 36 games.
Up next: The series wraps up at 1:10 p.m. Thursday when Tanner Roark tries to continue his dominant and surprising rookie season by improving to 6-0. Veteran Aaron Harang, recently signed by the Mets, will oppose Roark on the mound.
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