Game Recap #72: Laroche Comes Alive, Zimmermann Dominates

The Natsonce again returned to .500 status with a nice start to their four game series against the Colorado Rockies this evening, winning 5-1 in a game reminiscent of last year’s division winning campaign team. With a record at 36-36, the Nats were able to gain a game on the Braves in the division standings thanks to their loss to the Mets, cutting the gap to six games. This game was not flashy, but the Nats did just enough and were assisted by a poor defensive team in Colorado to ensure victory.

You had that feeling this was going to be a dominant pitching performance from Jordan Zimmermann the second he recorded the third out of the first inning. Despite giving up two hits, Zimmermann threw 15 strikes on 15 pitches, exemplifying just how strong his command was this evening. After giving up a leadoff single to Todd Helton in the second, Zimmermann recorded 16 consecutive outs before giving up a 2 out single to Nolan Arrenado in the top of the 7th. What was particularly impressive was Zimmermann’s fastball, which he had complete control of – as the game went on, his velocity noticeable improved, topping out at 97mph while usually sitting at around 94-95mph. He ran into a little bit of trouble in the 8th inning, when an Anthony Rendon error on a fielder’s choice put runners at first and third with one out. D.J. LeMahieu was able to single up the middle to bring in Josh Rutledge, thus surrendering Zimmermann’s only (unearned) run of the game. Zim’s final line: 8IP, 6H, 1 R (0ER), 1BB, 9K’s on only 112 pitches, 85 of which were strikes. Given that we’ve seen Nats starters rack up high pitch counts while only going 6-7 innings (like Gio Gonzalez’s 127 pitch performance in Cleveland last weekend), it was nice to see a starter go deeper into a game on a smaller pitch count. Zimmermann was truly spectacular tonight, and becomes the first starter to earn double digit wins. He did  not earn double digit wins last year until September, and has been the beneficiary of having the most run support of any of the Nats starting pitchers.

Much as I would like to keep raving about Zimmermann’s awesomeness, this was a game that saw an offensive explosion by Nats standards, as the Nats have now successfully scored 5 runs or more in back to back games since last week’s series at Colorado. Ian Desmond, following last night’s grand slam winner against Philadelphia, opened the scoring with an absolute moonshot that has not landed yet off Roy Oswalt – making his 2013 debut – with one out in the second. In the fourth, after a pair of singles by Adam Laroche and Steve Lombardozzi, Kurt Suzuki was able to drive Laroche in from second after the ball was bobbled by fill-in shortstop Jonathan Herrera (replacing injured all-star Troy Tulowitzki), and then poorly fielded by catcher Yorvit Torrealba as he was too slow to lay a tag on Laroche’s old man speed. In the 5th, Denard Span led off with a monstrous double off the wall and was advanced to third on a single by Anthony Rendon. After Rendon stole second on a botched hit and run attempt that resulted in a Ryan Zimmerman strike out, Laroche hit a hard shot into the gap in right center that may have been caught had the Rockies had a more competent defensive outfielder than Tyler Colvin patrolling the area. Nonetheless, the ball dropped in under his feet, and Laroche earned a triple in the process, scoring Span and Rendon. Jordan Zimmermann added the icing on a cake with a sacrifice fly in the 6th off reliever Adam Ottavino, scoring Lombardozzi who had hit a double and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless 9th – albeit in a non-save situation, to ensure the win for the Nats.

Some final quick hits. Desmond’s HR was his 11th on the season and his 31st extra base hit, making him the NL leader in both categories for shortstops and making him the increasingly likely all star starter for the National League due to Troy Tulowitzki’s injury. Denard Span got on base three times tonight for the first time since June 8th, an encouraging sign for Nats fans who have seen him struggle as of late. Laroche, who had also been struggling lately, had his first three hit game of the season tonight, which is another hopeful sign that he is heating up at a time when the Nats will enjoy 34 of their next 49 games at home. Still, while the Nats did break through on Oswalt in the 5th, he was dominant at times tonight, ultimately recording 11 strikeouts on 101 pitches. While the Nats did work counts deep on multiple occasions, the Nats will want to clean that number up moving forward. Still, a win is a win, and the bats look to be coming alive at a time when they are desperately needed.

The Nats return to the hill tomorrow when prodigal son Stephen Strasburg (3-6, 2.50 ERA) goes up against young gun Tyler Chatwood (4-1, 2.33 ERA).

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