Aug 23, 2014, 9:41 PM EDT
Two batters into Saturday evening’s game, Jordan Zimmermann and the Nationals already were trailing the Giants 2-0, and a rain-soaked crowd of 34,137 was murmuring, perhaps worried all the good vibes of the 10-game winning streak that ended Friday night were about to disappear into thin air.
On the mound, though, Zimmermann barely batted an eyelash. The right-hander already is one of the most-composed, least-frazzled pitcher in baseball, but he had even more reason not to worry after watching Hunter Pence somehow tattoo an 0-2, 94-mph that was tracked 15 inches above the top of the strike zone.
“There’s only one guy in the game that’s going to hit that pitch, and that’s him,” Zimmermann said. “I threw it right where I wanted it: 0-2, up by his shoulders. Beats me how he hit it that far.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything that good,” manager Matt Williams added. “That’s hard to do. And to get on top of it enough to drive it. … I’ve never seen anything like that.”
The Nationals could laugh about Pence’s homer at night’s end, because it was the lone blip on an otherwise dominant performance by Zimmermann and his teammates during what became a 6-2 victory.
Retiring 23-of-28 San Francisco batters faced after the home run, Zimmermann cruised through yet another impressive outing. Though he owns a pedestrian 4-1 record over his last 11 starts, the Nationals have gone on to win nine of those games, during which time he has posted a 2.91 ERA.
Among the keys to Zimmermann’s success: His steady demeanor and refusal to let one bad development ruin his outing.
“He didn’t get rattled at all (after the homer),” center fielder Denard Span said. “If anything, it seemed like he just focused a little bit more and buckled down and kept them right there. It gave us a chance to win.”
Zimmermann was aided Saturday by some early run support, which came in the form of six runs against a befuddled Tim Lincecum, who unceremoniously was yanked before completing three innings for only the second time in his star-studded career. Span and Jayson Werth drove in runs with base hits up the middle, and Asdrubal Cabrera added a solo homer into the Red Porch in left-center.
“I just think it was a really good approach today: middle of the diamond,” Williams said. “Jayson had a couple of perfect base hits with guys in scoring position. Just the other way, to the right-center field gap, didn’t try to do too much. Just hit the single over there we needed. That’s how you sustain innings. That’s how you put up crooked numbers.”
Zimmermann, meanwhile, prevents the opposition from posting crooked numbers by using his full repertoire of pitches over the course of a game to get batters out even on their third or fourth plate appearance. He relied mostly on his fastball and slider early Saturday, then turned to his curveball and changeup later on, leading to eight strikeouts and a relatively low pitch count of 107 after eight innings.
“Usually I try to get through the lineup the first time with fastballs and maybe a few sliders,” he said. “Later on in the game, when they see me more than once, I start to mix in more curveballs. I was able to do that. We scored some runs early, and I was able to settle in after that and not have the pressure of a 1-run game.”
And the Nationals, despite going stone-cold silent at the plate after Lincecum was pulled, were able to cruise through a comfortable victory, not once feeling like they were in jeopardy of dropping two straight games after winning 10 in a row.
“It would be easy for a team to say, ‘Oh well, here we go,’ after the top of the first,” Williams said. “They didn’t. They answered and drew even after the first, and that says something about those guys. We play hard every game.”
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
NL POSTSEASON SCHEDULE
WED: Giants at Pirates, 8:07 p.m. (ESPN)
FRI: Game 1, Pirates at Nats, 12:07 p.m.,
OR Giants at Nats, 3:07 p.m. (FS1)
SAT: Game 2, PIT/SF at Nats, 5:37 p.m. (FS1)
MON: Game 3, Nats at PIT/SF, TBA (MLBN)
OCT. 7: Game 4, Nats at PIT/SF, TBA (FS1)*
OCT. 9: Game 5, PIT/SF at Nats, TBA (FS1)*
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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