Zimmermann fights lack of fastball command in scoreless outing (3-3 final)

VIERA, Fla. - All three of Jordan Zimmermann's strikeouts during his three scoreless innings this afternoon came on sliders.

But while the slider was working today, the Nationals' starter was less than thrilled with his fastball command in his spring training debut.

"I felt OK," Zimmermann said. "I had a rough time locating the fastball today, but I threw some good ones when I needed to. The breaking pitches were pretty good. It's tough to throw them in this wind, but the ones I did throw I thought were pretty good."

Zimmermann is still starting to mix a changeup into his repertoire, but he only threw the pitch once this afternoon. His main goal was trying to spot the fastball and get a feel for the strike zone in blustery conditions.

"I'm just going to keep throwing (the changeup) more and more," Zimmermann said. "Didn't want to get myself in trouble the first time out, just wanted to work on locating the fastball and mix in a few offspeed (pitches)."

The righty starter was held on an innings limit last season in his first full campaign back after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He threw 161 1/3 innings before being shut down in late August. This year, there will be no such limit for Zimmermann, who is expected to slot into the middle of the Nats' rotation.

"It's going to be a good year knowing that I'm not going to be shut down at 160 and I'll be able to throw 200-plus innings," Zimmermann said. "It's definitely a good feeling."

The Nationals trail St. Louis 3-1 here as we enter the top of the ninth inning.

2011 third-round pick Matt Purke had an up-and-down second appearance of spring training, allowing four hits (including a solo home run) in two innings of work. Purke did bounce back nicely after the homer, however, striking out two of the final three batters he faced.

Reliever Brad Lidge allowed two runs (one earned) in the seventh inning, giving the Cardinals the lead.

Tyler Clippard worked in to, and out of, trouble in a scoreless eighth, and he's now given way to Drew Storen here in the ninth.

Update: We're done playing after nine innings, but not because the Cardinals were able to close this one out.

Carlos Maldonado jacked a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game at 3-3. Both teams decided to end the game there instead of heading to extras. Back with more from the clubhouse in a bit.

Dan Kolko was named MASNsports.com's Nationals beat writer after spending the last four years covering the Baltimore Ravens for MASN and also serving as the Web site's deputy managing editor. A University of Delaware graduate originally from Silver Spring, Md., Dan grew up a die-hard baseball fan and is thrilled for the opportunity to cover the Nationals. Before joining MASN, Dan worked in production at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda, Md., and also interned at the "George Michael Sports Machine" in Washington, D.C.

Follow Dan Kolko on Twitter: @DanKolko

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