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Zimmermann leads Nats over Marlins

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Zimmermann leads Nats over Marlins

MIAMI -- There are only two pitchers in the majors leagues this season who have made 18 starts and never failed to complete six innings. One is Justin Verlander, the reigning AL MVP, Cy Young Award winner and All-Star Game starter.

The other is Jordan Zimmermann.

Zimmermann has no hardware on his mantel. He's never been named an All-Star. He's not even considered one of the three most-accomplished members of the Nationals rotation.

Make no mistake, though, the 26-year-old right-hander is plenty appreciated inside his own clubhouse, especially when he throws six scoreless innings and leads the Nationals to a 5-1 victory over the Marlins like he did Friday night.

"Unfortunately a lot of things are based on wins and losses for pitchers, and unfortunately we've never scored a lot of runs for him, ever, and he doesn't get that many wins," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "But he's Mr. Consistency, I guess you could say. You know what you're going to get out of him. Never too emotional. He's the same guy every time."

And that guy most often pitches well enough to win. He frequently doesn't emerge with another notch in the W column, the byproduct of some of the worst run support in baseball over the last two years. But on nights like this, when his teammates jump out to a 5-0 lead on a lackluster Marlins club, Zimmermann starts looking more and more like an elite big-league pitcher.

"Last year, I thought he pitched like a No. 1," manager Davey Johnson said. "And he's continued it this year. And he's been getting not hardly any run support. He's grown up, to me, even more so this year."

The stats are starting to reflect that. It's not only Zimmermann's ability to eat up innings each time he takes the mound. It's his ability to hold the opposition to as few runs as possible.

He's been credited with 16 quality starts in 18 tries, including eight straight. He's surrendered zero or one earned run in 10 of those 18 starts, including four straight.

Zimmermann's season ERA now sits at 2.48, which now ranks fifth in the National League. Better than Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. Better than All-Star starter Matt Cain. Better than Verlander.

Not that the soft-spoken Wisconsin native makes a big deal out of it.

"That's what I try to do every time out, go 6-7-8 innings," he said. "I guess this year I've just been lucky enough to put a nice little streak together."

Friday night's start might well have been Zimmermann's best of the season. He retired eight in a row at one point, striking out four consecutive batters. And when he completed the sixth inning on only 87 pitches, he appeared poised to go much deeper into the night.

Johnson, though, had already decided he wasn't going to push his young starter in this game. Zimmermann hadn't thrown a ball at all during his four-day All-Star break -- he did, on the other hand, catch a bunch of walleye near his home in Auburndale, Wisc. -- and his manager didn't want to take any chances.

"I was kind of a little quick on the hook because I felt like I didn't know what he did over the break," Johnson said. "And I wasn't going to let him throw over 90 pitches."

So Johnson handed the ball to his bullpen with a five-run lead in the seventh, then watched as Henry Rodriguez nearly made a game of it. The erratic right-hander issued two walks and an RBI single over a four-batter span, and suddenly Johnson was summoning Michael Gonzalez to get out of the jam.

The veteran left-hander did it as efficiently as possible. He recorded two outs on one pitch, snagging Austin Kearns' comebacker and then tossing to first base to complete the double play that killed the Marlins' one hope of getting back in the game.

The rest of the night was matter of fact, with three more relievers combining to record the final six outs and ensure Zimmermann would be credited with his sixth win against six losses.

Afterward, Mr. Consistency was stoic as usual, happy to get the win, not at all upset to have received the quick hook from his manager.

"We had a fresh bullpen, and I think that's what Davey was thinking, too," Zimmermann said. "Give those guys some work. Six innings and no runs and hand it over to one of the better bullpens? I'll live with that."

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Harper continues to struggle, Solis looks good in return for Nats

Harper continues to struggle, Solis looks good in return for Nats

Leftover notes and observations from the Nats' 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday afternoon at Progressive Field.

Harper keeps scuffling: Bryce Harper's bizarre struggles continued on Wednesday as the Nats right fielder went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Both of his outs on balls in play were on pop ups and they weren't just-miss, long-hit flyouts like the two he smacked on Tuesday night. At the moment, it appears his swing is tracking lower than it should be and as a result he's getting under the ball.

Harper is now just 5-for-49 (.102) in his last 13 games with 12 strikeouts, a .237 on-base percentage and .415 OPS. Whatever has been wrong with Harper over the last few weeks and months appears to be getting worse and neither he nor the Nationals seem to have an answer as to why.

Because of his walks and power numbers, there are some stats that suggest Harper has still put in a decent season. Plenty of teams would sign up for his 20 homers, 55 RBI, 15 steals, .377 OBP and .830 OPS through 97 games. But after what we saw both last year and in April, it's clear Harper is not playing anywhere close to his capabilities.

The month of August begins on Monday, which means Harper's offensive slide will reach three months, or half of the season. At some point it may go from being a slump to an overall down-year, unless he can find his swing and turn it around soon. 

Solis looks good in return: Ryan Zimmerman made his return from the DL in Tuesday's loss, and on Wednesday it was Sammy Solis' first appearance since recovering from right knee inflammation. The Nats lefty got two outs in the eighth inning on strikeouts and allowed one hit before getting pulled for Matt Belisle. He only threw seven pitches across three at-bats.

Both Solis' fastball and curveball looked sharp and he was only removed due to a matchup with the right-handed hitting Mike Napoli up and the speedy Francisco Lindor on first. Though it was a brief showing, Solis' return was a positive sign for a Nats' bullpen that can use some help right now. He has been one of their best arms all season and could earn himself an important role down the stretch if he keeps having success.

Rivero stumbles again: Felipe Rivero began the ninth inning on Wednesday afternoon with Jonathan Papelbon and Shawn Kelley both unavailable, and in doing so took the mound for the second time in about 15 hours, given the quick turnaround for a day game. Just like Tuesday night, Rivero found trouble and allowed a run on two hits.

This time Rivero only recorded one out before he was replaced by Blake Treinen, who came in and promptly got a double play to end the game and give the Nats a 4-1 win. The run Rivero surrendered - on a Tyler Naquin RBI single - didn't end up making a difference in the game, but it was the second straight game Rivero gave up a run after he went 17 1/3 straight scoreless innings. That was the longest streak of any Nats reliever this season and made it look like Rivero had turned a corner. Perhaps he has, but the results haven't followed in recent days.

[RELATED: Strasburg rebounds as Nats top Indians]

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Strasburg rebounds, Turner shines as Nats top Indians

Strasburg rebounds, Turner shines as Nats top Indians

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday afternoon at Progressive Field.

How it happened: Having lost six of eight, with their bullpen wilting and their lineup being openly called out by manager Dusty Baker, Wednesday was about as good a time as any for the Nationals to receive a pick-me-up performance from a starting pitcher. That's exactly what they got, as Stephen Strasburg bounced back from an uneven outing to return to his All-Star form and dominate the Indians in the Nats' 4-1 win on a sunny afternoon in the place now known as Believeland.

Strasburg stared down one of baseball's best lineups and came out on top with seven scoreless innings and just three hits allowed. He was the star in the field. At the plate it was Trea Turner who once again clocked in with a well-rounded effort atop their lineup. Turner went 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBI.

Daniel Murphy added the Nats' other run on his 20th homer of the season. Jayson Werth walked to set a new career-high of 30 consecutive games reaching base. Ryan Zimmerman landed a single for his first hit since returning from the disabled list.

The Indians got their one run off Felipe Rivero in the ninth inning in yet another scary late-game performance by the Nats' bullpen. After getting the first batter out, Rivero issued a walk and then back-to-back singles, the second an RBI knock by Tyler Naquin. That brought Blake Treinen in to record the final two outs and close out the game for his first career save.

The Nats avoided the two-game sweep at Cleveland and now head west to see Denard Span and the San Francisco Giants.

What it means: The Nats snapped a two-game slide just in time before they play the Giants. San Francisco has won seven of their last 11 head-to-head matchups including the 2014 playoffs. The Nats will play four games there, but will not have to face Madison Bumgarner, a good thing for both their lineup and their pitching staff.

Strasburg deals: Strasburg was untouchable on Wednesday afternoon as he baffled an Indians lineup that was mostly seeing him for the first time. He tossed seven scoreless frames with seven strikeouts and two walks on 110 pitches. It was the 18th time in 19 starts this season that Strasburg has gone at least six innings and the fifth time in his last seven starts that he's gone at least seven.

Strasburg earned his 14th win of the season, tied for most in the majors. He stepped off the mound with a 2.68 ERA, which ranks seventh among MLB starters.

Turner shines again: Baker was bought an extra few days with his team playing in an AL park when it comes to who is the odd-man out of their suddenly crowded lineup mix. With Zimmerman back, someone - likely Turner or Ben Revere - eventally has to sit. With the way things have gone over the last week, however, it would be a shock to see Turner be on the bench when they go to San Francisco and return to NL play.

Turner has been impressive when given opportunities this year, but this was his best game. He tied a career-high with three hits and set new career-bests with two doubles and three RBI. His best at-bat came in the top of the second after Revere drew a 12-pitch walk to load the bases with two outs. Turner roped a single to left field to score two runs off Carlos Carrasco. That had to bring a smile to Baker's face, as he recently expressed frustration with his team's two-out approach.

In his last nine games, Turner is 12-for-40 (.300) with six runs, two doubles, three triples, six RBI and five steals.

Murphy hits No. 20: Murphy pulled another solo homer to right field, as he's been prone to do. This one came in the sixth inning on Wednesday and put the Nats up 3-0. It was Murphy's 20th of the season, which ties Bryce Harper for most on the team. The Nats have two 20-homer players now after only having one in 2015. Harper, though, did hit 42 by himself last season.

Murphy's home run was his sixth in his last 13 games. He has 19 RBI, 11 runs, eight doubles and a .396 BA (19-for-48) during that span.

Murphy also doubled on Wednesday and now has a 13-game hitting streak, the longest by any Nats player this season. It is the second-longest of Murphy's career, just short of the 14-game streak he had from Sept. of 2013 to April of 2014.

Up next: The Nats move on to San Francisco to take on the Giants, who are currently in first place in the NL West. Tanner Roark (9-6, 3.05) will pitch the opener for Washington opposite NL All-Star Game starter Johnny Cueto (13-2, 2.53).

[RELATED: Nats place Stephen Drew on disabled list]

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Nats place Stephen Drew on DL, call up infielder Difo

Nats place Stephen Drew on DL, call up infielder Difo

One day after the Nats got two players back from injury, they saw another go down, as infielder Stephen Drew was placed on the 15-day disabled list with vertigo-like symptoms.

Drew's DL stint is retroactive to July 24. The Nats called up infielder Wilmer Difo to take his place on the roster. 

Drew, 33, has only appeared in one game since July 17. That was on July 23 when he led the Nats to victory over the Padres with a walk-off RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth. That followed nearly a week-long battle with what was first described as the flu. He felt dizziness, had trouble sleeping and keeping food down.

An 11-year MLB veteran, Drew has thrived on the Nats' bench this season. Through 103 at-bats he has seven homers, 17 RBI and an .882 OPS. Drew has made the transition from everyday player to the bench look easy.

Difo, 24, debuted with the Nationals last May and has appeared in 15 MLB games. This is his first stint with the Nats this season. A switch-hitter, Difo is batting .255 with five homers and 33 RBI in 96 games with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators.

[RELATED: Papelbon's struggles continue, Ramos heating up for Nats]

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