VIERA, Fla. - When Jordan Zimmermann is on, you can often tell by the number of ground balls he gets. Swings and misses are nice - everybody gets so enamored of strikeouts - but a biting sinker usually translates into many chances for Nationals infielders.
Suffice it to say Zimmermann's got some sink to his stuff today.
Through three innings against the Tigers, Zimmermann is keeping his infielders hopping. He has gotten seven outs on ground balls and the only batter to get a ball into the outfield was Andy Dirks, who led off the game with a flare to left field.
The other outs have come on a first-inning called strikeout of Torii Hunter and a weak pop to short by Don Kelly in the second. And it's 0-0 heading to the bottom of the third.
One of the groundouts went to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who had to move to his left to snag a bouncer from Miguel Cabrera for the second out in the second inning. It was only the second fielding chance this spring by Zimmerman, who is playing in his second game, and at least produced a longer throw than the roller he had to charge Saturday night.
Otherwise, Zimmermann is distributing the workload nicely. Shortstop Ian Desmond has one assist, second baseman Danny Espinosa has two assists and first baseman Adam LaRoche has made two unassisted putouts. Zimmermann has two assists, one coming on a 1-4-3 play in the second where he deflected a ball to Espinosa.
Update: Finally, a run! LaRoche put the Nats up 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth with his first spring homer, a shot to left-center off a 2-1 Max Scherzer fastball. It was well struck, but might have been helped by winds blowing out. Left fielder Andy Dirks tracked it like he had a play, but the ball kept carrying.
Update II: After that Dirks single leading off the game, Zimmermann has retired 15 straight Detroit batters. All three of the outs in the fifth inning came on the ground, while the fourth was an air inning, featuring two outfield flies and a foul pop to first.
Update III: Zimmermann is out after six sterling innings. He allowed a leadoff single and then retired the next 18 batters in order, 13 of them on ground balls, a clear sign that his sinker was, well, sinking.
His outing was the longest of the spring by a Nationals starting pitcher, eclipsing the two 5 1/3-inning starts turned in by Stephen Strasburg.
Zimmermann walked none and struck out one. He threw 67 pitches, 48 for strikes.
Rafael Soriano relieved and has allowed the Tigers to take a 4-1 lead on RBI singles by Prince Fielder, Alex Avila, Omar Infante and Ramon Santiago.
Soriano is now out of the game and left-hander Fernando Abad is coming in.
Update IV: The Tigers added another run on Tyler Collins' sacrifice fly in the ninth, and the Nats had no answer in the bottom of the inning to close a 5-1 defeat.