- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 7, 2011

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Jordan Zimmermann did something in the second inning Friday night that no other pitcher in the major leagues had done this season and yet, in the Nationals much-needed 3-2 victory over the Marlins in 10 innings, he was still upstaged by one of his relievers.

Zimmerman needed exactly nine pitches to strike out Mike Stanton, Greg Dobbs and John Buck in the second, making him the first pitcher since Rafael Soriano did it last August to throw an immaculate inning.

But with the game tied at two, Tyler Clippard entered to begin the seventh and sent the next six straight Marlins batters back to the dugout shaking their heads, each the victim of a strikeout, and threw an absurd 19 of his 22 pitches for strikes.

The Nationals may have plated the run that won their 15th game of the season on a sacrifice fly to deep left field by Adam LaRoche that scored Jayson Werth in the top of the 10th, but without Clippard – and subsequently Drew Storen and Sean Burnett’s lockdown relief – they’d have likely been sent home with their fourth straight loss much earlier in the night.

“It’s pretty cool sitting back and, not that you can take your glove off, but today, obviously we could have,” LaRoche said. “It’s nice when guys are pounding the zone. When guys are in there throwing strikes, I think that’s when you see some really good plays defensively. Guys are on their toes, they know the ball is getting put in play and they just pound the zone and they continued to do that and really bailed us out as an offense.

“We can score two, three runs and be in the ballgame. I’ve been in a lot of situations where you’ve got to score five or six to be in it.”

Pounding the Marlins hitters with fastballs and changeups, Clippard generated eight swinging strikes and forced the Marlins to foul off nine others in his two innings of work. After the game, injured center fielder Rick Ankiel called him “Zorro.”

“That guy’s something else,” Zimmermann said. “I don’t know how he does it. It’s pretty amazing… What can you say? He faced six guys, six strikeouts. Tell him I need his changeup.”

Ultimately, though, as impressive as Clippard was, he was following the tone that Zimmermann had set from the start. Despite allowing two runs, one each in the fifth and sixth innings, the right-hander escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth to keep the game tied and allow his relievers to take over.

Zimmermann had such impeccable control early that he went through a stretch where he threw 19 straight pitches and not a single one of them was a ball. He ended the first inning with four straight, struck out the side on nine pitches in the second and didn’t throw a ball until pitcher Ricky Nolasco took him to a 1-2 count in the third before striking out.

Zimmermann and Clippard combined to throw 111 pitches through the game’s first eight innings and only 31 of them were balls. Storen followed with a hitless ninth – despite some shortage of breath when Mike Stanton sent a long fly ball to deep center field with two outs – and was able to recover in the 10th after allowing the first two Marlins to reach.

Sean Burnett threw one pitch to end it on a shallow fly ball to center field by Chris Coghlan.

“That was just a great team effort,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “Clippard was his amazing self, Storen was outstanding, (Burnett) did what he did and you almost can forget that Zimmermann had a nice ballgame for us.”

It also helped ease the sting of team record-tying 17 strikeouts and helped them avoid the indignity of beginning a pivotal – and lengthy – divisional road trip with four straight losses.

The Nationals, as has been the case early and often this season, got their offense in a patched together fashion. One run in the second on an RBI-double by Jerry Hairston Jr. that scored Ivan Rodriguez; one more in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Ian Desmond to bring home LaRoche and, of course, the one that was generated with a one-out walk by Werth in the 10th.

“It’s great,” LaRoche said. “Especially coming out of Philly with the way that turned out. This would have hurt today.

“When you get another pitching performance like that and have Clippard come in and do what he did and not be able to get that run across? Let’s just say it came at a good time.”

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