The Washington Times - May 26, 2012, 12:58AM

ATLANTA — Tim Hudson has been tough on the Nationals in his career. He entered Friday night’s contest having been the pitcher of record in 17 of his 23 starts against them — and having won 14 of those. But of all the Nationals Hudson is tough on, Ryan Zimmerman might have been the worst. 

Before Friday, Zimmerman had faced Hudson in 48 plate appearances. He had eight hits — and only one for extra bases. The numbers certainly were stacked in Hudson’s favor. Eight strikeouts, .174 average against, .208 on-base percentage, .196 slugging.

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It was still somewhat surprising to see Hudson carefully pitching to Bryce Harper with two on, two out in the seventh inning and Zimmerman due up next.

“Yeah it was kind of weird watching that,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “It looked like they kind of pitched around the kid. I said out there, ‘Well he’s a veteran pitcher but I don’t know if that was a wise move.’ And it certainly wasn’t.”

Zimmerman, who had doubled in his first at-bat, cleared the bases with a double to center to give the Nationals back a four-run cushion in a game that was 4-3 at that point. 

After the game, Hudson told reporters that while he wasn’t trying to pitch around Harper, he didn’t intend to give him anything to hit (which certainly sounds the same as trying to pitch around him). Harper, who singled in his first at-bat and also sent a hard-hit fly out to left, saw four pitches. Everything was away and none of it was even close to being a strike.

“They definitely walked him on purpose,” Zimmerman said. “Bryce is better than me right now. I’d walk him, too.”

“I mean, right against left, he hit two balls hard off him, he’s been swinging the bat great the past couple of games,” he added. “That’s why they have me in the lineup where I am. I’m supposed to get hits like that… It’s no disrespect to them or me or anyone. That’s just the game.

“Hudson against me or Hudson against a left-hander. Obviously he hasn’t faced Bryce enough to know, but I’m pretty sure he’s better against righties — and I know he’s better against me because I’ve had about three hits and two of them were tonight. That’s just the smart play.”

Hudson clearly wasn’t incapable of throwing a strike at that point, either, as he started Zimmerman off with two: a sinker, called, and a cutter, swung at. 

So what’s the plan then?

“You got to throw the plan out the window,” Zimmerman said. “Just battle or hope he makes a mistake. Which he did. He doesn’t make too many mistakes.”

But he did Friday. And ultimately, after Jayson Heyward sent a long solo home run to right field in the eighth, it was the decisive swing in the Nationals’ win. A familiar place for Zimmerman to be, but not one he’s found himself in as often this season. 

“Huge at-bat by Zim right there,” said shortstop Ian Desmond. “It was nice to see him back.”