In spite of the fact that he was just over twelve hours past dealing with flu-like symptoms which led to him being scratched from the series finale in Citi Field, Jordan Zimmermann took the mound on Friday in the Washington Nationals' home opener and held the Atlanta Braves' offense to just one run on four hits in five innings in which he struck out nine.
The only run he allowed came on an Evan Gattis' bomb in the fifth on an 0-1 fastball Zimmermann left up in the zone. Andrelton Simmons singled in the next at bat for the Braves' fourth hit of the game off the Nats' starter, but was caught stealing by Jose Lobaton. Jason Heyward walked, but was stranded when B.J. Upton K'd swinging at Zimmermann's 81st and final pitch.
It was a gutsy performance from Zimmermann, the Nats' 2013 19-game winner.
"He was good," Nats' skipper Matt Williams told reporters after what ended up a 2-1 loss to the Braves, who improved to 8-2 in their last ten games in Nationals Park.
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"The last inning he really started to labor," Williams continued. "He didn't eat much yesterday, and very little this morning. So he didn't have a whole lot of energy going out there. So the last inning he started to labor a little bit, ball started to get up in the strike zone, so he was good though. For what he could give us today he was good."
The Nationals, meanwhile, were unable to provide their 27-year-old starter with much in the way of support. They also managed to run themselves out of the few opportunities Braves' starter David Hale and the Atlanta bullpen allowed.
Bryce Harper singled for the Nats' first hit in the second, but a pitch-out on a steal attempt had him dead to rights.
Ryan Zimmerman hit a one-out double to left off Hale in the fourth, sending Adam LaRoche around the bases from first, but a relay throw from Justin Upton to Andrelton Simmons and on to Evan Gattis at home beat LaRoche to the plate.
After Ian Desmond's "inside the park home run" was ruled a double upon review, the Nationals' shortstop was caught trying to steal third with no one out.
The Nats scored their lone run in the sixth when Ryan Zimmerman drove Anthony Rendon in with a sac fly, but that was all they made of a two on, no out start to the inning. After Rendon and Jayson Werth reached safely again to start the top of the eighth, Braves' reliever David Carpenter struck LaRoche and Zimmerman out swinging and Harper looking to end the threat.
"He just threw some balls out of the zone," Williams said of Carpenter's recovery. "Fastball up, slide-step fastballs, that again, he throws really hard. So, a couple of those balls... the ball to [Zimmerman] he swung at a ball that was up in the zone, then Harper took the called third, but he's a good pitcher, he throws hard. We had our chances though, on any given day, we'll take those chances."
Going back over the baserunning outs, Williams didn't have a big problem with his players' or third base coach's aggressiveness.
"We want to take advantage of it when it's there for us," Williams said of Desmond's caught stealing. "But we also want to make sure that we're sure in that situation, so it was a little over-aggressive."
"I would imagine if you asked Ian, he would say, 'I was a little late getting started, I wasn't sure.' So, it happens, we had our chances later though."
Asked about third base coach Bob Henley sending LaRoche home in the fourth, Williams told reporters he was fine with the decision.
"We need to score runs," he said, "so I have no problem with that. We want to be aggressive in that situation too. The ball got over Justin [Upton's] head and it bounced off his body. He made a read and [Andrelton] Simmons' throw was right on the money, so... we want to stay aggressive."
Can the Nationals stay aggressive, but smart and not run themselves out of opportunities? After a few seasons without much of a running game, it was clear yesterday that it is still a work in progress.