WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12: Manager Davey Johnson of the Washington Nationals looks on from the dugout during the Nationals opening day game against the Cincinnati Reds at Nationals Park on April 12, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Another strong start from Jordan Zimmermann, who went six and gave up four hits and one run, on the first home run he'd surrendered through 26.0 IP this year. Timely hitting from not only Adam LaRoche, (whose .313/.403/.478 line, five doubles and two home runs so far might finally force folks to rewrite their press notes on his slow starts) but also Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Rick Ankiel, Wilson Ramos, Zimmermann and amazingly even reliever Tom Gorzelanny, who came through with a rare RBI single.
The Nats also got three strong innings of relief work from Gorzo, who earned the second save of his career and his first since 2010 while giving the rest of the Nationals' bullpen the night off. The Nationals improved to 14-4 with the win. They guaranteed their sixth-straight series win to start the season, won their fourth straight game overall and seventh of their last eight. The HR allowed by Zimmermann was just the fourth surrendered by Nats' pitchers this year. The win got the team off to the best start in franchise history. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson was asked last night if it's all gone as he envisioned things going thus far this season?
"Well, I didn't envision [Ryan Zimmerman] going down," the manager responded. "Or [Michael] Morse, I thought we were going to have him back. But the guys have really played hard. It's important to get off to a good start. I always feel like my teams get off to pretty good starts, but it's just early," Johnson said, "We're not totally running at full steam, but we're getting there." The 69-year-old skipper, who retired from the game in 1978 after winning two World Series and three Gold Gloves on the field and then managed a team to the World Series eight years later, knows better than to get too excited about franchise marks, or the team's record after eighteen games, but as he explained after the Nats won their fifth straight and improved to 7-2 during the last homestand, a strong Spring Training and start of the season are important, but it's more about how the year ends.
"I've always felt like if you really had a good Spring Training where you accomplished getting everyone on your roster ready," Johnson explained, "You have an awfully good chance of getting off to a good start. So it's preparation coming out of the Spring and knowing how you're going to manage your ballclub. That's why it's so important for a manager to have the club in the Spring. To be doing the things and seeing how they're going to fit and visualizing, knowing how you're going to have to manage ballgames and basically how other clubs are going to attack your club."
"So those games early on are very important," Johnson continued, "[and] I feel like my clubs have been fortunate to get off to good starts, but I'm more concerned with how we finish and how we get better on a daily basis than I am about a record, setting a record or tying a record. It's a long haul, it's a lot of battles, daily battles, so I don't put too much emphasis on any one particular contest. They're all important."
In last night's win, Jordan Zimmermann finally got the support that's been missing from his previous outings while continuing to dominate opposing hitters, allowing just four hits and one run on a home run by Padres' second baseman Orlando Hudson. It was the fourth home run of the year allowed by Nats' pitchers, and the only home run hit off the 25-year-old Zimmermann in 27.0 IP this season, over which he's walked just two batters (0.67 BB/9) while striking out 16 (5.33 K/9). "He pitched a great ballgame," Davey Johnson told reporters after the game, "He was outstanding. Made one bad pitch to [Hudson], kind of hung a slider on the inside half and [Hudson] crushed it, but other than that he was his usual self."
Adam LaRoche went 3 for 4 against the Padres, collecting his fifth double and tenth walk in 77 plate appearances this year over which he has the aforementioned .313/.403/.478 line. The Nats' manager praised the work the 32-year-old first baseman has done to provide the offense the Nats have desperately needed with first Michael Morse and now Ryan Zimmerman out of the lineup. "He's been carrying us," Davey Johnson explained, "And he's really a slow starter, so changing that trend has been huge. He's been a big guy in the lineup."
LaRoche wasn't the only one hitting last night. Wilson Ramos went 2 for 5. Danny Espinosa went 2 for 5. Davey Johnson's leadoff man Ian Desmond was 1 for 3 with two walks and two runs scored. The Nats had 11 hits total and scored seven runs, got another strong start from their rotation and improved to 14-4 on the year. It might not be how Davey Johnson envisioned things going early in the season, but the Nationals have someone managed to get off to the best start the franchise has ever seen, with the help of seemingly unsustainably good pitching and just enough offense. And as Johnson said, they're not yet running at full steam...