Jordan Zimmermann threw seven strong innings in yet another impressive outing as the Nationals bested the reigning American League Champion Detroit Tigers with a 3-1 victory at Nationals Park.
Tiger’s starter Anibal Sanchez also had a solid performance, but was out pitched by both Zimmermann and the much-improved Nats bullpen.
Offensively, Bryce Harper would lead the charge, tying the score for Washington in the third inning and then adding a little extra breathing room to the Nats lead in the fifth inning – while notching double digit home runs on the season.
Zimmermann’s dominance in the first inning set the tone for the rest of the game. Even though Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter reached base on an error by gold glove first baseman Adam LaRoche, Zim faced the minimum by getting the very next batter to ground into an inning-ending double play.
The Nats offense was stifled early as well. Lead off man Denard Span singled to start the game, but was quickly picked off by Sanchez before the rest of Washington’s offense could even move him over. Both shortstop Ian Desmond and Harper would ground out to end the first inning.
The Tigers almost cracked Zimmermann in the second, but the Nats still got out of it unscathed. First base slugger Prince Fielder doubled off Zimmermann to lead off the inning and a two-out walk to catcher Alex Avila put runners on first and second for Detroit. Zimmermann showed why he is the talk of the National League right now, getting second baseman Omar Infante to softly ground out to third base, ending the inning and the threat.
The Nats also had their share of offense in the second inning, although they had no runs to show for it. Singles by LaRoche, second baseman Danny Espinosa, and catcher Kurt Suzuki loaded the bases for the Nats with two outs. But the Nationals could not capitalize in the early pressure situation, as Zimmermann grounded out to shortstop.
Jordan may have let his rally-ending groundout get in his head, because he would allow the only Tigers run of the game in the top of the third. After striking out the two first batters of the inning, the righty allowed another double, this time to Hunter. Five pitchers later, last year’s triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera singled in Hunter – giving Detroit an early 1-0 lead.
But the Nats weren’t having it. In their half of the third, Washington put up some offense of their own. Span served as the catalyst, tripling to right field to open up the frame. Two batters later, Harper to hit a fly ball to left fielder Andy Dirks. But Span’s speed was no match for Dirks arm, as the center fielder scored easily, tying the score at 1 on the sac fly. Zimmerman struck out swinging to end the inning.
Jordan Zimmermann took advantage of another double play in the fourth inning, again off the bat of Avila, to face the minimum and get the Nats quickly back into the dugout where their bats would make the Tigers work.
LaRoche started off the inning with a line drive single to left field. The hit was LaRoche’s second of the day. Slapping the pitch to the opposite field is a great sign that LaRoche, who has been mired in a deep slump at a plate this season, is starting to turn things around. A single off the bat of Espinosa, who is also starting to get things going at the plate, moved LaRoche into scoring position.
With one out, Suzuki hit a fly ball to right field. LaRoche put the pressure on Hunter, tagging up to advance to third base. The throw by Hunter completely missed its intended target at third base and rolled into the camera-well along the third base line. LaRoche scored on the throwing error and gave the Nats a 2-to-1 lead. The Nats would keep the lead for the rest of the game.
As Zimmermann continued to cruise against the potent Detroit offense, Washington padded their lead in the fifth inning.
Harper launched a solo shot into the right field bleachers – a no-doubter that gave the 20-year-old his 10th homer of the year. The bomb pushed the Nats lead to 3-1.
Zimmermann only scattered three hits through the sixth and seventh innings, but kept the Tigers offense paralyzed. Zim was pulled after the seventh inning in favor of set up man Tyler Clippard. Zimmerman threw 101 pitches in another effective and efficient outing.
Clippard made things interesting in the eighth, but got the job done. The righty allowed back-to-back two-out walks to Dirks and Jhonny Peralta and made Nats fans hold their breath in the late innings of the eventual win. Clippard struck out Avila in the pressure situation, blowing him away on a 93-MPH fastball to end the threat.
After the Nats went three-up three-down in the bottom of the eighth, closer Rafael Soriano took the ball to close things out in the ninth.
Roger “the shark” Bernadina took over defensively in left field for Tyler Moore and immediately made manager Davey Johnson look like a genius. Bernadina ranged to his left, diving to rob Infante of a leadoff single.
With the leadoff runner down, Soriano settled in and did what he does best, get the save. Pinch hitter Victor Martinez and Austin Jackson were shut down in order as Soriano recorded his 11’th save of the season, also lowering his season ERA to 2.40
The win makes the Nats 18-15 on the season. The victory was also the Washington’s first against the Detroit Tigers in team history.