MIAMI — The Washington Nationals arrived in Miami Sunday night feeling better about themselves than their previous three games may have showed. A weekend thrashing at the hands of the Altanta Braves had given them a small taste of early adversity, but they reminded everyone that the season was in its infancy.
They spoke confidently after Sunday’s game and before they took the field on Monday. But the truth was they had to look no further than the opposing dugout to find, at least for one night, the cure to all that ailed them: the Miami Marlins.
The way the Nationals opened the game offensively in a 10-3 blowout, the Marlins hardly stood a chance.
But once Jordan Zimmermann took the mound, once he set to work on pitching the first nine-inning complete game of his career, the end to the Nationals’ first three-game losing streak of the season became mere formality.
“You know, we don’t live in the past,” said manager Davey Johnson. “We don’t worry too much about things. We take it one day at a time, and this was a perfect example.
The Nationals pounded out 16 hits on the Marlins’ pitching, chasing starter Wade LeBlanc from the game after just 3 2/3 innings of work. Seven of the nine members of their starting lineup, which included usual bench players Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore, had at least two hits. Ian Desmond led the way with four.
They hit five doubles, and one home run — the first of the season for Ryan Zimmerman. They pounded the Marlins, inning after inning.
Four runs in the first, and two more in each of the the third, fourth and fifth innings.
And in the process they made Zimmermann’s job that much easier.
“He went out there with a mission,” Desmond said. “He was pounding the zone, attacking guys and putting trust in us to play defense behind him.”
So he did. For nine full innings Zimmermann did just that.
Sixty-eight percent of his 103 pitches were strikes, and he allowed just six hits — five of which came in the sixth and seventh innings.
He needed a mere 48 pitches to get through five innings, and only 61 to make it through six.
Even after a 23-pitch seventh inning, Zimmermann was at 98 pitches entering the ninth. When he came in from the eighth inning, Johnson approached him and asked how he felt.
“I’m good to go,” Zimmermann told him. “Let’s get this one.”
It took him five pitches to close it out.
“It means a lot,” Zimmermann said of his first nine-inning complete game, the second complete game of his career. The other came in an eight-inning loss to the Los Angeles Angels in 2011.
“It means I’m doing my job staying in the ballgame and putting up zeroes. That’s the kind of pitcher I want to be. I want to be a workhorse and someone that can eat up innings and stay out there as long as possible.”
Zimmermann was just the 22nd pitcher in Nationals history to throw a complete game, and only the fourth starter to go nine innings since Johnson took over as manager in June of 2011.
The hope, of course, is that Johnson will continue to loosen the leash on his starters, most of whom are still young, and they’ll reward that faith with more performances like Zimmermann’s on Monday night.
“I don’t want them to think that their job is done after six, seven innings,” said pitching coach Steve McCatty, who threw nine or more innings 43 times in 161 career starts. “That’s the last thing that I want. They understand, if they keep their pitch count down and their head in the game, they’ve got a good chance to go deeper in the game.
“That’s the whole idea as a starter. That’s what you do. That’s what you’re supposed to do. So it was really good to watch him do it.”