- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2011

SAN DIEGO — Batter after batter, the San Diego Padres walked back to their dugout, bat in hand, shaking their heads. Each time they had threatened Jordan Zimmermann he’d re-establish his dominance over the second-worst offense in the National League with a strikeout.

In continuing a trend, Zimmermann became the sixth Nationals starter in the past seven games to toss at least six innings and allow one or no earned runs. Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, who’s guided four major league teams in parts of 11 seasons, said he’s never had a club that’s done it.

In Zimmermann’s case, it was a seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts. But until Danny Espinosa’s sacrifice fly in the ninth opened the doors to a 2-0 victory, Zimmermann’s performance easily could have gone for naught.

“There’s only one thing we need to do more of,” said right fielder Jayson Werth, who walked to load the bases before Espinosa came to the plate. “We need to hit.”

Despite their phenomenal defense, which set a franchise record with 104 2/3 consecutive errorless innings, and Zimmermann’s eighth straight quality start, the Nationals and their league-worst offense had once again failed to produce anything.

But in a battle of ineffectuality between two teams that had combined to score six runs in the previous two games, the Nationals won out, breaking an 0-for-12 string with runners in scoring position, and they head home with their first winning multi-city road trip in three years.

“We had some poor at-bats, and then we had some good at-bats with no luck,” Riggleman said. “We’ve just got to keep putting them out there.”

Eight times the Nationals advanced a runner to third. Five times they left him there. The sixth was thrown out at home.

The seventh, though, was different. With one out and the bases loaded, Espinosa became the first National to even hit a ball into the outfield with a runner on third. His drive to the wall in right was caught by Chris Denorfia, but it brought home Brian Bixler for the game’s first run.

“It’s real frustrating,” said Laynce Nix who was stranded on third twice. “You want to get the game in hand. Jordan pitches so well, we felt like we weren’t even on the field. He was in and out, throwing strikes. We feel like if we can just put one run across we’ll win the game.”

Alex Cora advanced to third on the play, avoiding an apparent tag, Nix followed with an RBI single, and Drew Storen picked up his 15th save. When all was said and done, the Nationals head home from an 11-game road trip with a 6-5 record despite scoring just six runs in their past three games combined.

They left San Diego on a three-game winning streak, and they’ll be welcomed in Washington by the return of Ryan Zimmerman. The All-Star third baseman likely will be activated from the disabled list Tuesday and play for the first time in 58 games.

“It’s very significant,” Espinosa said of the winning record. “Especially to win three in a row here, not a hitter’s ballpark. I thought as a team, I thought we swung the bat really well. The pitching did great, and I think this could really put us on a roll.”

They’re in a position to do so only because for seven innings, Zimmermann toyed with the Padres.

A leadoff single by Jason Bartlett was erased when he was caught stealing, and Zimmermann struck out the next two batters. A one-out walk in the second was followed by back-to-back singles to load the bases, and Zimmermann again struck out the next two batters. The only other time the Padres threatened, putting two on in the fourth, Zimmermann struck out Will Venable swinging and retired Alberto Gonzalez on a flyout. He wouldn’t allow another Padre to reach base.

“I don’t really rank my outings,” Zimmermann said. “But this was a pretty good one. It’s right up there if not the best. I felt good all day and we got the win, that was the main thing. As long as we get the win, I don’t really care.

“We had a lot of opportunities and we knew we were going to get a run sooner or later. We’re not going to put up five, six runs every game. It’s going to be a grind sometimes, and we got two runs when we needed them.”

Now they can enjoy it for a long flight home and an off day or, as Matt Stairs put it, “A well-deserved day off for the big boys.”

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