Game Recap #72: Laroche Comes Alive, Zimmermann Dominates

The Nats
once 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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