Bryce Harper homered in his return to action but it was Jayson Werth who tallied five RBIs Monday night as the Washington Nationals topped the Milwaukee Brewers 10-5 at Nationals Park.
Four innings into Monday night’s ballgame, Zimmermann (W, 12-3) and the Nats (42-40) held an 8-0 lead against the Brewers’ (32-49) depleted pitching corps.
In Zimmermann’s bid for his 21st consecutive unbeaten start at home, he contributed to the Nats’ ignited offense from both the mound and the batter’s box – going a career-high 3-for-3 with a double and two singles.
Before the right-hander ever stepped into the box, however, Harper had already stolen the show.
In his first at-bat since missing 31 games, Harper crushed a second-pitch 93 MPH fastball, sending it over the left field wall to put Washington on top 1-0. While rounding the bases, Harper acknowledged the crowd, only to follow through on Nats fans’ demand for a curtain call seconds later.
The bottom of the third inning appeared to be the Nats’ opportunity to let everyone in the order catch up to Harper.
Zimmermann led off with a double down the left-field line – the first of a career-high three hits on the night for him. Showing off his athleticism on the base paths, Zimmermann advanced to third on a pitch in the dirt with Denard Span batting.
Werth doubled to center to plate both Zimmermann and Span, giving the Nats a 3-0 lead before Yovani Gollardo (L, 6-8) could record an out in the inning. On the play, Werth took third on a throwing error by shortstop Jean Segura.
After Harper struck out swinging, Ryan Zimmerman singled home Werth and came home himself on an Adam LaRoche ground-rule double that put the Nats up 6-0.
In the bottom of the eighth, Zimmermann singled, proving himself capable of batting in a makeshift leadoff spot. Span doubled and the two came home on yet another two-RBI hit by Werth to give the Nationals a seemingly untouchable 8-0 lead.
Then, the Brewers began to make contact off Zimmermann’s pitches, chipping away – slowly but surely – at Washington’s lead.
Juan Francisco, Sean Halton and Norichika Aoki singled in the fifth before Segura grounded into a force out – making it 8-2 Nationals when the inning came to a close.
In the sixth, Rickie Weeks and Francisco hit back-to-back homers to cut Washington’s lead in half. The two shots marked the sixth time this season Milwaukee has produced back-to-back home runs.
It also concluded Zimmermann’s outing as the ace tossed for 6.0 innings, 9 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 5 K and 2 HR. He also threw 67 of 88 total pitches for strikes.
With Craig Stammen providing relief in the seventh, the Brewers tacked another run on the board via a Segura single and Aramis Ramirez double that made it 8-5 Washington.
Luckily for the Nationals, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Fernando Abad would see to it that that was all Milwaukee’s offense could muster.
In the meantime, Chad Tracy doubled and Denard Span walked in the eighth to set up an opportunity for insurance runs as pinch-runner Roger Bernadina came home on another error by Segura.
With two outs, Zimmerman chopped one to third, running just hard enough to land safely at first as Span scored to make it 10-5 Washington.
With the win, Zimmermann has now become the first in the National League to reach 12 wins, tying the Detroit Tigers’ Max Scherzer for the overall MLB lead. To put that in context, Zimmermann’s 12 wins this season already match his career high – he won 12 last year as well.
THE GOOD: While Bryce Harper’s second-pitch home run may have caused jaws to drop, can anyone really be surprised? After all the pomp and circumstance he contributed to Opening Day at Nationals Park, it only seems right that Harper would start the second half of a season with a shot to left field on the second pitch he saw. As Davey Johnson said after the game: “Wouldn’t you know it – we kind of expected something special.”
But, if there were just one Player of the Game trophy to be awarded Monday night, the rightful owner would be Jayson Werth. Werth went just 2-for-5 – one less hit than Jordan Zimmermann tallied, in fact – but he made it count, batting in five runs and scoring one himself. In fact, his five-RBI night marked his first since 2009.
In a game that should have never been close, at least Drew Storen (H, 11) Tyler Clippard (H, 13) and Fernando Abad could combine for 2.1 innings of no-hit, no-run baseball.
THE BAD: After Jordan Zimmermann simply dominated hitters for the better part of six innings, he and Craig Stammen allowed the Milwaukee Brewers (the Milwaukee Brewers!) to chip away at the Nationals’ eight-run lead. Before the top of the fifth even came to an end, it seemed everyone on the Nats Twitterverse spoke of a lack of confidence in the Nationals’ lead.
KEY QUOTE: Davey Johnson on whether or not Nationals hitters are starting to get loose: “I think when a lot of guys are kind of struggling, I think it puts pressure on each one of them [as they’re] thinking ‘I’m the one who’s dragging us down….’ I haven’t really sensed a lot of tension in the clubhouse other than we have a lot of young guys who aren’t doing the things they’re capable of and they’re not comfortable. The only way to get around that is to get a bunch of hits.”
THE STATS: 10 R, 13 H, 4 BB, 7 K, 1 HR (Harper), 6-for-13 RISP, 7 LOB
NEXT GAME: Tuesday, 7:05 p.m. Brewers at Nationals – RHP Wily Peralta (5-9, 5.58) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (4-6, 2.41)