The Washington Nationals march to the N.L. East title continued under a bright midday sun Monday. The Nats used another offensive explosion and solid pitching effort from Jordan Zimmemann to beat the Milwaukee Brewers 12-2 and secure a split of the four-game series, before a healthy crowd of 25,302 for a 1:05 weekday start.
The Nats (93-60) extend their division lead over the idle Atlanta Braves to five games while reducing their “Magic Number” to clinch the division to five.
It looked like a pitcher’s duel for the first three innings, as the Nats and Brewers eached scored once in the early frames. The Nats scratched one out in the first inning. Bryce Harper reached on an infield single and moved up on Ryan Zimmerman walk. Harper took third on a pitch in the dirt with third baseman Aramis Ramirez asleep at third and late to react to cover the bag. The throw from’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy went into left field and Harper walked home with the game’s first run.
The Brewers evened things up in the second on Corey Hart’s 28th home run of the season. Jean Segura later tripled in the inning and was stranded, and that was the last ball Jordan Zimmermann allowed out of the infield.
Zimmermann (W, 12-8, 2.90) was at his efficient best the rest of his appearance. He allowed just two more base hits — both infield singles — and walked just two, striking out seven along the way. He recorded six ground outs and five fly ball outs.
“You kind of expect it out of him,” manager Davey Johnson said of Zimmermann. “He threw the ball great. Cat [pitching coach steve McCatty] was getting on him a little bit there. Early on they were strictly fastballs. I mean, he had a live fastball, but didn’t really pitch. And then after about the second inning, the first time through the lineup, then he started using all his arsenal and really made it look kind of easy.”
The Nats offense took care of the rest. They batted around in the fourth inning off Brewers starter and former Nats pitcher Marco Estrada (L, 4-7, 3.87), with the big blows coming from Jayson Werth — a two-run “double” that center fielder Carlos Gomez lost a ball in the sun — and Ryan Zimmerman’s 24th home run of the season, a three-run shot that made the score 7-1 at the end of the fourth.
They tacked on two more in the fifth — on Kurt Suzuki’s ground ball double into the left field corner — and three more in the eighth. Two scored on Zimmerman’s opposite field single and subsequent error on the right fielder, and Zimmerman came home on Danny Espinosa’s bases-loaded fielder’s choice.
THE TAKEAWAY: This was a relieving appearance by Jordan Zimmermann. There were those that thought his last couple of starts were not quite “Jordan-esque”, but this one put all the doubts aside. Davey mentioned that the last time out Zimmermann was pitching on extra rest and as such was “too strong” and flying open on his delivery, causing his slider and curveball not to break as he’s accustomed to. He had no such troubles Monday.
THE GOOD: Ryan Zimmerman. He went 3-for-4 with a homer, 4 RBIs and two runs. Danny Espinosa had three hits as well, and Jayson Werth, Kurt Suzuki and Zimmermann himself all had two hits apiece.
THE BAD: Ian Desmond went 0-for-3, but did walk twice. So there’s that. Moar OBP!
THE UGLY: About the only thing that didn’t go the Nats’ way was Tyler Clippard’s eighth inning apearance. The struggling reliever came in to a non-pressure situation with a huge lead and was one pitch away from a scoreless inning, before a long at bat against Ryan Bruan ended with a flared single to right. Aramis Ramirez then followed with his 50th double of the season, a ball he crushed to the wall in center. Clippard’s been one of the bright spots for the Nats all season long, but ne needs to get right quickly before the playoffs start.
THE STATS: 14 hits, 7 BBs, 5 Ks. 6-for-17 with RISP, 7 LOB, 2 GIDP. No errors, 1 DP.
NEXT GAME: Tuesday at 7:05 pm against the Philadelphia Phillies. Ross Detwiler (10-6, 3.10) faces Cole Hamels (15-6, 3.05)