MIAMI — Marlins Park is a different sort of place, from the waist-high aquariums curving behind home plate to lime green walls to the $2.5 million sculpture in center field that looks as if it was pulled from a Las Vegas junkyard and colored with packets of Kool Aid.
Dancers writhed under neon lights next to a pool in the Clevelander beyond left field while the wave sent a ripple of noise through half-full blue seats.
Into the kitsch and glitz came Jordan Zimmermann on Friday night, soft-spoken and low-key and every bit his small-town Wisconsin roots. The Washington Nationals’ right-hander’s slider came, too, louder than any gimmick in the months-old stadium.
That pitch was the exclamation point as Zimmermann baffled the Miami Marlins over six scoreless innings and the Nationals won their first game of the season’s second half, 5-1.
“Unfortunately, a lot of things are based on wins and losses for pitchers,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who planted a two-run home run in the power-blue waves of the “Home Run Sculpture,” an estimated 399 feet from home plate. “He’s Mr. Consistency. He’ll never get emotional. He’s the same guy every time.”
While fellow starters Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez pitched in the All-Star Game earlier this week, Zimmermann has quietly been the Nationals’ most consistent starter. No flash, on or off the mound. He spent the All-Star break fishing for walleye in Wisconsin. Just six or more workmanlike innings in each of his 18 starts this season.
“That’s what I try to do every time out,” said Zimmermann, who improved to 6-6 and dropped his earned-run average to 2.48, tops among Nationals’ (50-34) starters.
And that slider lingered.
Zimmermann uses sliders, which he claimed not to realize he was throwing well Friday, as his out pitch. When he struck out four straight Marlins (41-45) in the third and fourth innings, Carlos Lee and Hanley Ramirez went down with swings and misses against sliders.
Twenty-five percent of his pitches this season have been sliders. Batters have swung and missed at them 15.7 percent of the time. Compare that to the 6.7 percent of Zimmermann’s four-seam fastballs, which he considers his best pitch, that have coaxed swings and misses.
Zimmermann used his 12-to-6 curveball to get ahead of hitters and, of course, set up that slider to finish them off. Of all his pitches Friday, the curveball felt best to him.
During one stretch, Zimmermann retired 14 of 16 batters. The Marlins scattered four hits and a walk off him.
“Last year, I thought he pitched like a No. 1 and that’s continued this year,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s grown up even more.”
Not wanting to extend Zimmermann after being away from the mound over the All-Star break, Johnson pulled him after 87 pitches. Still, Zimmermann is second among Nationals’ starters with 95.7 pitches per game.
Johnson admitted the hook was quick, but didn’t give his starter a chance to talk the manager into a keeping him in the game. Zimmermann didn’t mind. Getting the well-rested bullpen work was Johnson’s other motivation.