Davey Johnson answered a few questions about 20-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper's early exit last night and Harper's bruised left side, the result of his collision with Turner Field's fenced right field wall in Tuesday's game. The Washington Nationals' skipper then quickly transitioned into praise for his 26-year-old right-hander Jordan Zimmermann's outing against the Braves last night in Atlanta.
"What a game Zimmermann pitched," Johnson said, "I mean, outstanding." One start after tossing a complete game, one-hit shutout of the Cincinnati Reds, the Nats' '07 2nd Round pick surrendered just two hits in 8.0 scoreless against the Nats' NL East rivals from Atlanta. With the hard-throwing starter at 107 pitches after a 12-pitch eighth which ended with the pitcher having retired seventeen straight in his 18th scoreless frame in a row, the Nationals' manager turned to the bullpen and closer Rafael Soriano to lock down the Nats' first win in six games against the Braves this season.
"That was one of my tougher hooks, going to the ninth" the Nationals' 70-year-old manager admitted afterwards, "But if he got somebody on, I had to go get him, I didn't want to put that kind of heat on my closer. But what an outstanding game."
When he was done for the night, Zimmermann had hit a season high 107 pitches and he'd completed a string of scoreless innings which stretched back to the fourth inning of his April 21st outing against the Mets in New York. Zimmermann worked another inning that day then threw 9.0 scoreless vs the Reds and 8.0 against the Braves Wednesday night for a dominant run of scoreless innings in which he's allowed just two walks and three hits. "I think he was real close to the highest number of pitches he's thrown this year," Johnson said, "I think he was a couple pitches away from a complete game he had against the Marlins." He actually went over it by four pitches, 103 to 107.
"But what a great effort," Johnson continued, "I don't think anybody got on for, what was it, the last three or four innings?"
"17-straight batters," reporters said.
"Like I said, that was one of my tougher hooks."
• Jordan Zimmermann vs Atlanta:
With the Nationals scuffling as a team, having dropped three straight overall and five-straight to the Braves to start the season, they got an outstanding performance from a pitcher who has established himself as one of the elite starters in the game, even if his name is rarely mentioned in national coverage as one of baseball's best. Davey Johnson said he's already in that convesation. "No question about it," the Nationals' manager said, "I mean, I thought he was among the elites last year. We didn't get him much run support last year, but he pitched awfully well and he's taken it up another notch this year."
He's also established himself as a pitcher who can take the team on his shoulders and get them a win when they need one. The Nats' offense managed just three hits off Braves' pitching last night, but luckily one of the three was Ian Desmond's two-run blast, which provided all the offense Zimmermann needed.
"We needed that one bad," Johnson admitted, "And he went out there and pitched a blueprint game. That was outstanding. I mean, some good fastball hitters and he just came right at them. He could throw any of his pitches over about any time. And it was just a great game. Like I [said] that was one of my tougher hooks."
Jordan Zimmermann's Line: 8.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 Ks, 107 P, 72 S, 7/5 GO/FO.
Jordan Zimmermann's 2013 Stats: (W, 5-1), 6 G, 6 GS, 44.0 IP, 1.64 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 2 HR (0.41 HR/9), 7 BB (1.43 BB/9), 27 Ks (5.52 K/9).