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Nationals 2-1 over Astros: Jordan Zimmermann solid, avoids liner in third Spring start

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Jordan Zimmermann avoided a liner back to the mound and the Washington Nationals' starter completed four innings of work in his third Grapefruit League start. The Nats beat the Houston Astros 2-1 in Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Last time out, in a start against the Detroit Tigers in Space Coast Stadium, Jordan Zimmermann threw 47 pitches in 2 ⅔ IP before Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams decided to end the 28-year-old right-hander's outing.

Williams liked that Zimmermann was aggressive as usual, even in Grapefruit League action.

"All first-pitch strikes to every batter,'" Williams told reporters, including MASN's Chris Johnson. "'He was really good. Just getting ahead and throwing the ball in the zone.'"

Zimmermann told MASN's reporter that he attacked the Tigers with everything he had since he didn't have to worry about seeing Detroit on a regular basis in the regular season:

"'I was attacking and trying to get ahead with the fastball. The last outing, I wasn't able to do that, but this one, for the most part, it was right where I wanted it to be. I threw a couple good sliders, a 3-2 curveball that was good. I'm getting stronger and getting better.'"

Zimmermann earned the win in that outing, which saw him give up two hits and one earned run, leaving him with a 1.93 ERA and a .200 BAA two starts into Spring Training.

Start no.3 for Zimmermann began with a grounder to short off Robbie Grossman's bat that Danny Espinosa bobbled, allowing the leadoff runner to reach first safely. Ryan Zimmerman handled a bunt off Jonathan Villar's bat for the first out of the frame, but George Springer took a fastball inside for ball four and a one-out walk that put two on in front of Luis Valbuena.

Zimmermann threw an 85 mph 0-1 change by Valbuena and got a flyout to Michael Taylor in short center with an 0-2 fastball up high to the Astros' infielder. A groundout to second from Jed Lowrie in the next at bat ended an 11-pitch frame.

Astros' righty Mark Appel, the no.1 pick in the 2013 Draft, was ranked no.2 on Baseball America's list of Houston's top prospects this winter, behind only shortstop Carlos Correa as the top-ranked pitcher in the organization after his first season in the system in 2014.

Appel was scheduled to make his first start of the Spring last week, but was scratched when he felt tightness in his right forearm while warming up. He threw a bullpen on Wednesday, however, and was cleared to pitch today.

Appel needed 20 pitches to get through the bottom of the first, striking Tyler Moore out with a burrowing fastball inside for out no.3, but that K came after Michael Taylor tripled to right and scored from third on a sac fly by Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper and Ian Stewart both walked in a long inning of work. 1-0 Nationals after one.

Carlos Correa, no.1 on BA's Top 10 list of Astros' prospects, started at short today and in his first at bat shot an 0-2 fastball through the left side of the infield, by a diving Desmond at short for a one-out single and the first hit of the day off Zimmermann. 'Stros catcher Hank Conger put a charge in a 2-1 heater from Zimmermann, but sent a fly out to Michael Taylor in deep center field. Astros' outfielder Alex Presley grounded weakly to second to end a 14-pitch frame that left the Nats' starter at 25 pitches total after two.

Appel worked around a leadoff single by Mike Carp in a seven-pitch second that left him at 32 pitches overall.

Robbie Grossman buzzed Zimmermann's tower, knocking the right-hander down with a line drive back to the mound and off the right-hander's glove. Zimmermann recovered the ball, but rushed and fired a low throw to first that got by Zimmerman and rolled into foul territory in right, allowing the runner to take third and then score when Jonathan Villar singled in the next at bat, 1-1.

Zimmermann shook off the scare and was fine, luckily, and he recovered and retired the next three batters to strand Villar at third base. 1-1 with the Astros after two and a half. 46 pitches total for Zimmermann after three.

Bryce Harper walked and stole second in the Nationals' third, but he was too far off second base when Zimmerman hit a grounder to short in the next at bat. Samuel Deduno threw a scoreless third for the Astros. Still 1-1.

Houston first baseman Jon Singleton took a 91 mph full-count fastball for a called strike three on Zimmermann's 51st pitch of the game. Correa took a tight, 83 mph breaking ball low and away for a called strike three and out no.2. Hank Conger bit on a 1-2 bender, worked the count full, and grounded out to second to end a 15-pitch frame for the Nats' starter, who was up to 61 total.

Mike Carp (2 for 2) singled to start the Nationals' fourth, and Danny Espinosa (righty vs righty) lined a single through short one out later, but both runners were stranded.

Alex Presley decided to test Bryce Harper's arm on a line drive single to right in the fifth, but Harper threw a strike in to second baseman Wilmer Difo, who applied the tag for the first out of a 1-2-3 frame by Rafael Martin, the Nats' right-handed reliever, who got help from a diving Tyler Moore on a liner to the left-center gap as well.

Felipe Rivero's fastball sat around 93-94 mph and he mixed in an arching 76 mph bender he was able to throw for strikes. He dialed the heater up to 96 on an 0-2 fastball to get Jon Singleton looking to end a 14-pitch sixth.

Rivero needed just eight pitches to retire the Astros in order in the seventh. 22 total in two scoreless.

Clint Robinson put the Nationals up 2-1 with an RBI triple to center off Astros' left-hander Kevin Chapman in the Nats' seventh, driving Tony Gwynn, Jr. in from first for the go-ahead run.

Matt Grace was given a chance to try to hold a lead in the eighth. Teoscar Hernandez doubled to center to start the frame and moved to third on a swinging bunt with two down that Matt Skole fielded in front of the third base bag, but pocketed. Grace got up 0-2 on and threw a fastball by Derek Fisher to end the inning, however, and keep the Nats ahead, 2-1.

Aaron Barrett worked the top of the ninth and gave up a one-out single by Carlos Correa, who stole second base in the next at bat. Max Stassi walked to put two on with one out, and they both advanced on a slider in the dirt that got by catcher Sandy Leon. Alex Presley grounded weakly to third, allowing Matt Skole to throw home and cut down Correa. Teoscar Hernandez stepped in with runners on the corners and two out and went down swinging at a 1-2 slider to end the game and a 21-pitch frame. 2-1 Nationals.