May 18, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Amid the disheartening news that Gio Gonzalez was heading to the DL with a shoulder inflammation, the Nationals took the field this afternoon trying to overcome yet another injury to a key player, win their weekend series against the Mets and potentially take over first place in the NL East.
They got a pair of clutch hits from Wilson Ramos, who drove in four runs, and a towering home run from a heating-up Ian Desmond to inflict some damage on New York right-hander Zack Wheeler. Jordan Zimmermann wasn’t in top form, but he managed to limit the damage to three runs over six innings before turning things over to the Nationals’ bullpen.
That relief corps, the most-consistent and most-effective unit on the roster so far this season, continued the trend. Drew Storen cruised through the seventh inning. Tyler Clippard mowed through a 1-2-3 eighth. And Rafael Soriano finished it off for his 10th save in 11 tries.
Thus, the Nationals took two of three from the Mets, improved to 23-20 and moved into a tie with the Braves atop the NL East at least temporarily, pending the outcome of Atlanta’s series finale in St. Louis.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Though his numbers didn’t reflect it, Ramos had been swinging a better bat in recent days, hitting the ball hard and delivering some productive outs. It seemed only a matter of time before his stroke really paid off, and indeed it did today. Ramos belted a two-run double to the wall in left-center in the bottom of the third, then added a two-run single in the fifth to extend the Nationals’ lead. He entered the afternoon with only two RBI in 26 at-bats this season. He wound up tripling that number by the end of the game.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: It wasn’t Zimmermann’s best start of the season, but it was good enough. The right-hander allowed three runs on eight hits and two walks over six innings, but he was the victim of several soft singles through the infield, including a couple of balls toward second base that Danny Espinosa would’ve had a better shot at snagging than Kevin Frandsen. Zimmermann, though, needed to do a better job once handed a 5-1 lead in the sixth. With a chance to lock this one down, he instead gave up a pair of runs on three singles and a walk, bailed out in large part by Juan Centeno running into an out on the bases. It was a “quality start” and earned Zimmermann the win, but he knows he can do better than this.
KEY STAT: Opposing batters are now 7-for-50 with one walk this season vs. Storen.
UP NEXT: The Nationals open up a three-game series with the Reds at 7:05 p.m. Monday. A pair of top-10 picks from the 2009 draft go head-to-head in the opener: Stephen Strasburg (No. 1 overall pick) vs. Mike Leake (8th overall).
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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