Hearing from Zimmermann, Harper after rain-shortened win

VIERA, Fla. - The infield here at Space Coast Stadium is currently one giant lake.

The grounds crew wasn't able to get the big tarp onto the field before the skies opened up in the top of the eighth inning this afternoon, and the Braves-Nationals game was called with the Nationals officially picking up a 9-3 win after seven innings of play.

Jordan Zimmermann battled winds of at least 29 mph to throw six strong innings. In his final Grapefruit League start this spring, Zimmermann allowed three runs (one earned) on six hits with three walks and four strikeouts.

He faced the minimum through the first three innings and didn't allow a ball to leave the infield in that time.

"Felt like I was on a ship out there, blowing around like this," Zimmermann said. "It's definitely not very fun pitching in this weather. I felt good, that's for sure. Kept the fastball down in the zone, got a lot of ground balls. They didn't hit many hard-hit balls today, which is definitely good.

"The fastball was good and the changeup was good today. Obviously, throwing a curveball and slider in this wind, it's not good. Not the ideal conditions for that, so I stuck with the fastball and changeup, mostly."

Indicating just how locked in he's been lately, Zimmermann retired 27 batters in between hits dating to his last start, when he threw six scoreless innings against the Tigers, The righty gave up a leadoff single to Andy Dirks that day, and then didn't surrender another hit until Aldrelton Simmons' single to left leading off the fourth inning today.

"It means I'm close," Zimmermann said. "Obviously, it feels good to get outs, and to hit 27 in a row, that means I'm doing something right. I feel good. I'm ready to go. I feel strong and I can't wait for the season. ...

"The fastball is right where I want it and the changeup has come a long ways and I feel like I can throw it at any time, so if I (need to) work on anything, I think it would just be the changeup a little bit more."

Zimmermann will have his final tune-up for the regular season when he starts the Nats' exhibition game against the Yankees at Nats Park on Friday.

Danny Espinosa (3-for-3 with a three-run homer, double and single), Adam LaRoche (2-for-3 with a two-run homer and RBI single) and Bryce Harper (3-for-3 with a double, two singles and two stolen bases) provided much of the offense for the Nats this afternoon.

Harper returned to the lineup after being scratched yesterday with a swollen left thumb, and struck three balls well. His double was scorched to left field through the wind and one-hopped the wall.

"I didn't really feel it," Harper said of the thumb. "It's a case of squaring a ball up or getting jammed. If you don't get jammed, you're not going to feel it. If you do, it's going to look like a balloon."

It sounds like for now, Harper will just have to deal with some soreness in the area between his thumb and index finger when he doesn't make solid contact. He tried taking swings with a protective foam ring on his thumb during batting practice, but ditched the ring when he got at-bats during today's game.

"No, I can't wear it," he said. "I'll wear it during BP and in the on-deck circle, but going to the plate, I don't like the feeling, so I'm not going to use it."

Harper is now hitting .431 on the spring, but he's still not taking his ridiculous numbers too seriously.

"Eh, it's spring training," Harper said. "Everybody's going to get better. Just trying to have good ABs every single day."

Espinosa's average, meanwhile, is up to .349 on the spring. He seems to be locked in, as well. Two of his hits today - the single and home run - both came hitting left-handed.

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