- Associated Press - Friday, September 20, 2013

WASHINGTON — Jordan Zimmermann has a two-hitter to go with his one-hitter and needs just one more win to get to 20. Such milestones are starting to look more and more like consolation prizes because of improbable events some 250 miles away.

Zimmermann (19-8) took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and picked up his NL-leading 19th win Friday night, facing only three batters above the minimum in the Washington Nationals’ 8-0 victory over the Miami Marlins.

“The breaking ball out of his hand, it was fooling me, to be honest,” said Washington’s Denard Span, watching from his perch in center field. “He was buckling me out there.”

Zimmermann walked one, struck out nine and allowed two hits in his fourth complete game of the season. He had a one-hitter on April 26 in a 1-0 win over the Reds.

“You could tell from the first pitch of the ball game that Zimm wasn’t going to be denied,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said. “He was going right after them. He was throwing hard.”

The elation could only last so long, however, because the Nationals retreated to their clubhouse and watched on television as the Cincinnati Reds scored three runs with two outs in the ninth to tie the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Reds then won it in the 10th, putting Washington five games behind both teams with only eight to play in the NL wild-card race.

“We’re not mathematically out of it yet,” Zimmermann said. “So we’ve got to keep fighting until the end, and hopefully one of these other two teams tank.”

After hovering near .500 for most of the season, the defending NL East champs have won 12 of 14 and 29 of 40. With Zimmermann so effective, they got all the offense they needed — and then some — when they sent 11 batters to the plate in a seven-run sixth against Marlins starter Jacob Turner (3-8) and reliever Chris Hatcher.

Zimmermann passed the 200-inning mark for the season and lowered his ERA to 3.18. There’s no telling how his season might have played out had he not been bothered midseason by a stiff neck, an ailment that has finally gone away.

“It’s actually fun waking up the morning,” Zimmermann said, “knowing there’s not going to be any pain in your neck.”

It was obvious from the get-go that Zimmermann had his best stuff. Many of his pitches seemed to have out-of-this-world movement, making it an unfair fight against most anyone holding a bat.

“Zimmermann, you got to give him credit,” Miami manager Mike Redmond said. “He understands the magnitude of this game for them and where they are. It’s a must-win. He went out there and did what a really good pitcher does.”

Zimmermann needed only nine pitches to get through the first inning, eight of them strikes. He struck out the side in the second, getting Logan Morrison to flail at a high 96 mph fastball to end the inning. The perfect game ended with a two-out, five-pitch walk to Giancarlo Stanton in the fourth, but the next hitter, Justin Ruggiano, was left so clueless by a two-strike, 88 mph slider that the centerfielder’s left hand came off the bat during a halfhearted swing.

Second baseman Anthony Rendon made two nice plays on sharply hit one-hoppers — to his right in the fifth, to his left in the sixth — to allow those in the ballpark to start pondering the possibility of the franchise’s first no-hitter since the move from Montreal in 2005.

Donovan Solano rendered such hopes mute with a solid single to center with two outs in the sixth, eliciting an “awwww” of disappointment and then a nice ovation from the crowd.

Until then, Turner had been nearly as stingy, allowing three hits and no runs through five innings. The Nationals broke the scoreless tie by opening the bottom of the sixth with four consecutive hits, including back-to-back doubles by Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper. Denard Span had two hits in the inning, including a two-run triple.

“It’s not about who throws the ball well for five innings. The other guy went nine,” Turner said. “That’s really the ultimate goal of a starter, to go deeper in the game.”

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