Before they could even turn the lights on at Space Coast Stadium, swirling winds and reports of a nearby tornado sent fans and ball players scrambling for cover with the Washington Nationals leading the Atlanta Braves 9-3 in the eighth inning Sunday afternoon.
Jordan Zimmermann pitched 6.0 impressive innings, allowing six hits, three runs – only one earned – three walks and four strikeouts over 85 pitches on an outrageously windy day in Central Florida.
Before Mother Nature kicked up dust, however, the Nats did plenty to bring fans to their feet.
Denard Span led off the bottom of the first with a single off right-hander Kris Medlin and advanced to second on a grounder by Jayson Werth. Bryce Harper singled to push Span to third and, with Adam LaRoche batting, Harper stole second and forced a throwing error by catcher Matt Pangnozzi, which allowed Span to score. By the end of the shortened contest against the Braves, Harper went 3-for-3 with two runs and two stolen bases, bringing his batting average this spring above .430.
LaRoche singled to drive in Harper and the Nats closed out the inning with an early 2-0 lead.
Washington earned an additional run in the second after Danny Espinosa singled and Kurt Suzuki walked to start the bottom of the inning with runners at first and second.
Zimmermann’s sacrifice bunt advanced the runners to scoring position. With two outs, Werth singled to plate Espinosa, but Reed Johnson threw on target to Pagnozzi to catch Suzuki at home.
Zimmermann continued to pitch a gem in the third, forcing Pagnozzi to ground into a double play after Johnson led off with a walk.
Harper started off the bottom of the inning with yet another leadoff single for Washington – and yet another stolen base. Harper took third on a grounder by Ryan Zimmerman and, after Desmond drew a two-out walk, Espinosa launched a fly ball over the left field wall to make it 6-0 Nationals.
The Braves earned one back in the fourth after Zimmermann gave up singles to Andrelton Simmons and Heyward and a walk to Freddie Freeman. With one out, Dan Uggla singled to left to plate Simmons, but LaRoche and Desmond turned a stellar 6-3-1 double play to help Zimmermann out of the jam.
With the skies darkening in the sixth, Ramiro Pena led off with a single before Jose Constanza reached on a fielding error by Espinosa, who had seemingly grown too ambitious after witnessing the earlier double play.
Zimmermann struck out Jordan Parraz but Chris Johnson singled to load the bases. Tyler Pastornicky grounded into a force out that plated Pena and, with two outs, Juan Francisco singled in Constanza to make it 6-3 Nats.
Espinosa made up for his error in the bottom of the inning, however, with a double off Luis Avilan that put him just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. Kurt Suzuki’s single brought home Espinosa and the Nats took a 7-3 lead.
Before the Wicked Witch of the West flew in on her broomstick, the Nats had a field day with the wind.
Steve Lombardozzi rocketed a double off David Carpenter to start off the bottom of the seventh before Zimmerman went down on strikes.
Then, Adam LaRoche hit a two-run bomb to the opposite field. On any given day, the ball would have likely been a homer, but the impending storm sent the ball sailing out of the park before everyone ducked for cover. Roger Bernadina grounded out and Carlos Rivero hit a popup to end the inning, but Tyler Clippard barely made it to the mound in the eighth before the skies opened up.
Winning pitcher: Jordan Zimmermann – 6.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K
Losing pitcher: Kris Medlen – 5.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HR
- Bryce Harper – 3-for-3, one double, two stolen bases
- Danny Espinosa – 3-for-3, 3 R, 3 RBI, double, home run
- Adam LaRoche – 2-for-4, 1 R, 3 RBI, home run