May 21, 2015, 10:00 AM EST
Two batters into Wednesday night’s game, Jordan Zimmermann and the Nationals were down a run, a pair of Yankees having already connected for base hits. Four batters in, and the score was 2-0, as the crowd of 37,648 — at least, the portion of it that wasn’t still making its way into the park — began to murmur.
Zimmermann was murmuring to himself, as well, as he stood on the mound during that potentially disastrous first frame of the night.
“I told myself: ‘Gotta hold them here. We’re going to score runs,'” the right-hander said later. “And I was able to do that.”
Indeed, Zimmermann’s ability to shut the Yankees out for the next six innings played a key role in what eventually became a 3-2 Nationals victory and a 2-game series sweep of their vaunted opponents.
Zimmermann hasn’t always looked like his usual self this season, so the first-inning jam perhaps left some worried about what was to come. Neither he nor anyone in the Nats dugout, though, was concerned after Brett Gardner singled to right and Carlos Beltran doubled to right-center to open the game.
“Jordan was really good, on the corners down in the zone,” said manager Matt Williams, who watched much of the game on a clubhouse TV after getting ejected in the third inning along with Bryce Harper. “Gardner got a bloop hit, and then the double. They did a good job of moving him over to third and scoring the second one. But from then on, he was really good.”
Zimmermann’s explanation for the brief early struggle: Not enough variety in his pitch selection.
“First inning was just … they were on the fastball, and I just left a few over the middle,” he said. “I like to try and go a few innings with just the fastball, but I had to break everything out right away after the first.”
Once he began turning to his curveball and slider, especially early in the count, Zimmermann cruised. He needed only 41 pitches to complete his next four innings, leaving him with plenty of gas in the tank for the latter stages of the game. He wound up throwing 88 total pitches over his seven innings, allowing just three singles and a walk from the second through the seventh.
“I just told myself: ‘You have to start mixing it up and you can’t throw first-pitch fastballs to all these guys,'” he said. “They’re all good fastball hitters. I started throwing the curve and the slider and got them off-balance and was able to go seven.”
And thanks to his teammates’ late rally, Zimmermann was rewarded with a win, his fourth in a season that on the surface has appeared a bit inconsistent but actually has been quite impressive with one exception.
Throw out his disastrous start in Boston on April 13 — he was tagged by the Red Sox for seven earned runs in only 2 1/3 innings — and Zimmermann is 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 3.6-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio that isn’t far off from his career mark.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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