Zimmermann hitting stride again at right time for Nationals

With nine games remaining in the regular season, the Nationals would like nothing better than their starting rotation to get into a groove right before the postseason begins.

No. 1 starter Gio Gonzalez continues to roll, earning win No. 20 Saturday in a 10-4 gem over the Brewers. Two days later, the No. 2 starter Jordan Zimmermann dispatched Milwaukee 12-2.

On cue, Zimmermann went 6 2/3 innings on Monday, allowing four hits with just one run, a solo shot by Corey Hart, with just two walks and seven strikeouts, earning his 12th victory of the season.

He also created offense, going 2-for-3 with two singles and a key RBI for the second run of the game in the fourth inning. That opened the door for Jayson Werth’s two-run double and Ryan Zimmerman’s three-run shot that gave the Nationals a 7-1 lead.

That was part of the reason manager Davey Johnson did not let Zimmermann finish the seventh, even though he most likely would have. But with 106 pitches and all the running he did on the bases, Johnson felt Zimmermann had done more than enough on this day.

“Early on, he was throwing strictly fastballs,” Johnson said. “He had a live fastball, but didn’t really pitch. The second time through the lineup, he started using all of his arsenal and really made it look kind of easy.”

Before his previous start, Zimmermann had a rare nine days off and Johnson noticed the slider was not getting as much action as it had been earlier in the year.

“When he got an extra days rest, he started rushing and getting out too far,” Johnson noticed. “The elbow comes down and the (slider) was flat. But he is so strong and with an extra days rest he really want to take it to the hitters and he gets out there too quick.”

Johnson watched as Zimmermann settled in the second time through the Brewers’ order, and he started peppering in his other breaking stuff. After two hits in the second, the Brewers managed just two singles off of Zimmermann from the third through the sixth.

“He is not jumping,” Johnson said. “He is still strong as a bull. He has a good curveball, good slider and an outstanding fastball.”

His teammates have noticed what Zimmermann can do, too. At it looked to them to be vintage stuff.

“His last four have been great,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “He is pitching great. He is a bulldog. When you keep your little skids to a short length, he is Jordan and he has been doing that all season long and he is back.”

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said this four-start stretch for Zimmermann reminds him of how the right-hander started the season.

“In the first half, he was unbelievable,” Zimmerman said. “He went a few starts in a row there where he didn’t go as deep as he usually does. But his last couple of starts have been great again. He has been so consistent all year. He is that guy that every fifth day you got out there and you know what you are going to get from him.”

This is critical for the Nationals, as Gonzalez and Zimmermann will be called upon to set the tone early in what could be their first playoff series in the second week of October.

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