Plenty to like about this one for the Nationals. They went 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position, drove in four runs with two outs, allowed no runs from the one error they made and got another impressive start from Jordan Zimmermann. And their bullpen didn’t allow a hit in 3 2/3 innings. Doesn’t sound like a 4-13 team, does it?
The problem, of course, is consistency, which the Nationals still have yet to demonstrate. But they have to feel pretty good about their chances with Zimmermann at this point. He started shakily, throwing 30 pitches in the first inning, but didn’t let the inning snowball after walking Jose Reyes to start (which is not a good way to begin a game).
He struck out the heart of the Mets’ order (Beltran-Delgado-Wright) five times, and only allowed one extra-base hit, from Delgado in the first inning. Three times, he struck out Wright, including two on curveballs—once looking on a 1-2 count with a runner on third in the first, the other time swinging on a 2-2 count in the sixth.
If it seems like those are gutsy situations for a 22-year-old kid to be throwing curveballs to a three-time All-Star, you’re right. It’s just that Zimmermann has a good enough curveball and plenty of guts to make it work.
“Everybody knows he’s got a live arm, and (the breaking pitches) will keep people from cheating on the fastball and timing him,” manager Manny Acta said. “He’s got four pitches. I think the best one is that curve that he has. It’s slower, so it kind of changes up the pace for the hitters.”
Assuming the Nationals draft Stephen Strasburg (probably only something a surgeon could prevent at this point), the Nationals’ rotation could look like this in a year: Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, Olsen, Martis. Two left-handers, all 25 or under, only one under club control for less than four more seasons. That’s how you start contending.
You also do it with consistent offense, which the Nationals haven’t showed yet. But they showed flashes Sunday. Jesus Flores (who had an outstanding series) hit another homer, and Austin Kearns absolutely crushed one 420 feet to center. This is still a team with a lot of boom-or-bust hitters, which might have to change at some point, but there’s potential there. They also continue to work counts and knock pitchers out early; only one pitcher (Atlanta’s Jair Jurrjens) has lasted through the seventh inning against them.
Now, all this can change very quickly in Philadelphia, where Shairon Martis gets a very tough road test tomorrow night. But heading down there, the Nationals at least got a glimpse of what they look like when things go right.