VIERA, Fla. — Now is the time to get serious. The time for the Washington Nationals' regulars to start to feel like they're getting locked in and ready for the start of the 2013 season. As manager Davey Johnson likes to put it: "Time to go to the whip."
If Johnson wanted to see season-ready players, he didn't have to look much farther than the mound Monday afternoon as Jordan Zimmermann threw six innings of one-hit baseball against a Detroit Tigers lineup filled with their fearsome regulars.
How good was Zimmermann? He needed just 67 pitches to get through the six frames. And after a leadoff single by Andy Dirks on the second pitch of the game, Zimmermann set down the next 18 batters he faced — 13 of them on ground-ball outs.
"It's one of those days when you have everything working," Zimmermann said, feeling his fastball, slider, curveball and change-up were all sharp. "You can locate everything anytime you want. [Those days] don't come by often, let's just say that. When you've got everything working, it's a lot easier. ... You feel like you can't do anything wrong. Everywhere you throw the ball, it goes where you want it to."
Zimmermann focused more on setting hitters up and pitch sequencing in this start than he had in any previous outing this spring. The first time through a Tigers batting order that featured Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez, Zimmermann started every hitter with a first-pitch fastball. The second time through he mixed it up, keeping them off-balance with first-pitch sliders, curveballs and even change-ups.
"I told him, 'You can go nine,'" said Johnson, who pulled him after six because several relievers needed work. Zimmermann threw 20 more pitches in the bullpen after he was out of the game, getting him close to 90.
"He wins ballgames when he's like that, when he has a low pitch count later in the game," Johnson added. "That was a good outing."
Improving his change-up has been Zimmermann's focus this spring. If Monday was any indication, he has worked it into his repertoire enough that it has become a reliable pitch. Zimmermann said he threw it mostly in 1-0, 2-0 and 2-1 counts — but with hitters sitting on his fastball after the first time through the order, he also went to it on the first pitch a few times and got the weak ground balls he was looking for with one pitch.
"When you add a new pitch, sometimes you're thinking about that pitch the whole game," Johnson said. "But I think he's using it. He had some good hitters up there and he made it look easy."
Nats cut eight, release Snyder
The Nationals cut eight players from major league camp Monday to bring the total number of players left to 33 with two weeks to go before Opening Day.
Catcher Chris Snyder, who had an opt-out on his minor league contract and was unlikely to make the Nationals out of camp, was also granted his unconditional release to sign with the Los Angeles Angels.
Right-handers Yunesky Maya, Ryan Perry and Erik Davis, outfielder Corey Brown, infielder Chris Marrero and catcher Jhonatan Solano were optioned to Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and infielder Zach Walters were reassigned to minor league camp. They are expected to begin the season at Triple-A as well.
"I wanted them to look at it as an opportunity to get to where they need to be and to be ready from jump street," said Johnson, who spoke highly of each player, trying to impress upon them how easy it could be for them to be needed in the majors.
"I always take maybe more time than most when I talk to young players because I want them to know what I'm seeing and what I'm expecting of them when they go down."
Around the horn
Right-hander Christian Garcia saw a specialist Sunday in Baltimore for an update on the partially torn tendon in his right wrist and was told he needs two more weeks of rest before he can resume baseball activities. ... Gio Gonzalez threw 87 pitches in six strong innings in a minor league intrasquad game against Double-A Harrisburg.
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