- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2009

NEW YORK | The number of fans in attendance at Citi Field for Sunday’s game between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets was 40,023. That’s more than three times the announced attendance for Jordan Zimmermann’s first big league start, more than five times the crowd that watched his last minor league start and roughly 54 times the population of Auburndale, Wis., where Zimmermann honed his square-jawed mound presence.

There is little about Zimmermann’s pedigree that suggests he should be able to walk into New York, the task of earning the Nationals’ first road win of the season, and strike out Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and David Wright a collective five times.

There is less to suggest he would be able to do it so coolly and effectively, ending a rocky first inning by freezing Wright with a 1-2 curveball and allowing just four more singles after the first. But that resolve, which helped the Nationals beat the Mets 8-1 on Sunday, is what makes the Nationals believe they might have an ace in waiting.

Zimmermann allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings, snapping the Nationals’ 16-game road losing streak along the way. He needed 30 pitches to get through the first inning after issuing a leadoff walk to Jose Reyes but just 73 to get through the next 4 1/3.

He became the franchise’s first pitcher to win his first two major league starts since Beltran Perez in 2006. But before Perez, who made five relief appearances before his back-to-back wins, the precedent set for Zimmermann becomes even more impressive: Randy Johnson was the last to do it.

“He shows no fear,” manager Manny Acta said. “He throws four pitches against that potent lineup like the one the Mets have. I think he showed a lot today.”

Zimmermann struck out Wright three times, dropping another curveball under the third baseman’s bat on a 2-2 count in the sixth inning.

It was yet another sign of bravado from a pitcher who, at least until video coordinators get enough data on him, can keep hitters guessing on every pitch.

“Everybody knows he’s got a live arm, and [the breaking pitches] will keep people from cheating on the fastball and timing him,” Acta said. “He’s got four pitches. I think the best one is that curve that he has. It’s slower, so it kind of changes up the pace for the hitters.”

By the time the 22-year-old took the mound in the second inning, the Nationals already had taken the lead for good, staking themselves to a 2-1 advantage on Jesus Flores’ second homer in three days.

It was a margin that only grew as Zimmermann kept turning the Mets away.

“It was fun. It was the biggest crowd I’ve pitched in front of,” Zimmermann said. “The hitters put up a lot of runs. It’s easy when you have a lot of run support.”

The Nationals got another two runs in the third inning with a pair of two-out hits - the kind of inning-extending offense they have been missing all year - and piled on another four in the fifth. Austin Kearns crushed a 420-foot homer to center, Flores followed with his third hit of the day, Alberto Gonzalez drove him in with a double and Mets starter Oliver Perez was out of the game.

Washington was 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position, bumping its average in those situations from .229 to .242. The Nationals also drove in four runs with two outs.

“It’s funny; the trainers were saying, ‘We need a mulligan - a 16-game mulligan,’ ” said center fielder Justin Maxwell, who had two hits, a walk and two steals from the leadoff spot. “So we start from Game 1. That’s today.”

Such optimism could be short-lived in Philadelphia, where the Nationals continue a six-game road trip against the World Series champion Phillies on Monday. But with Zimmermann on the mound, it’s a lot easier for the Nationals to feel better about their future, both short term and long term.

“You’re going to have days like that, where you don’t have your best stuff,” Zimmermann said. “Those are days where you have to go out and battle and try to do your best.”

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