VIERA, Fla. - So much for that dead-arm phase that Jordan Zimmermann was going through.
Two days after notching a hole-in-one during a team par-3 team golf tournament, the first ace of his life, Zimmermann found a pretty good groove on the mound against the Mets, allowing just one earned run (three runs total) over 4 2/3 innings, with six strikeouts.
“Jordan threw the heck out of the ball,” manager Davey Johnson said. “Threw the ball great. Threw some good change-ups. Got 80 pitches in, I think 81. That was a good outing.”
For what it’s worth, we actually counted 82 pitches here in the press box. But I’m not one to nitpick.
Last spring, Johnson called reliever Drew Storen “Tinkerbell,” because he tinkers around with new ways of attacking hitters during spring training. Apparently that nickname still applies this year.
“Ever since I’ve been here, even when I was just watching (as a consultant), he’s always messing around in spring,” Johnson said. “I don’t think he’s ever had a pretty good spring. He’s always doing different things. This year’s a little more deliberate. Everything he’s doing, trying new things.”
Storen allowed a solo home run to Collin Cowgill in the seventh inning today, and gave up a bloop single to left before retiring the side.
“His arm strength is good,” said Johnson, sounding confident that Storen’s .320 batting average against isn’t a concern. “Sometimes he flies open, gets his arm down and the ball comes out (high). But he’s fine, I’m not worried about him.”
Johnson said he’ll have his relievers start working every other day sometime in the near future, forcing them to start attacking hitters with more of an in-season mentality instead of just going out and trying to throw the ball by them because they feel strong working on two days of rest.
Craig Stammen allowed an inherited run to score in the fifth inning today, but then pitched a scoreless sixth. His spring ERA stands at 5.00, not that that means much of anything.
“He was a little bit wild today, but he’s got great sink,” Johnson said. “He’s got a great curveball. Basically, he’s one to build up the arm strength. That’s what you do. He throws hard and I’ve stretched him out, now we’re getting more into his kind of role with two days off, just like he did today. Part of an inning and an inning. That kind of stuff. But I like where he’s at.”
After today’s 2-for-4 performance, Bryce Harper is batting .444 and slugging .806 this spring. He crushed a two-run homer to right-center in his first at-bat today, then laced an RBI single to left in the seventh. The ball was hit so hard it scooted past left fielder Lucas Duda, bringing in another run on the error.
“I’ve seen him handcuff shortstops, but never the left fielder,” Johnson joked. “But he’s swinging the bat pretty good. He’s laying off, not chasing, which is good.”
Harper did overthrow the cut-off man at one point today when trying to cut a runner down at the plate. That’s been something the Nationals have been working with Harper on this spring, trying to get him to bring his throws down and allow the cut-off man to decide whether to let the ball get through to the plate.
“He said he just muscled a little bit on that one. He said he’d get it down,” Johnson said. “I talked to him about it. I said, ‘It doesn’t have to come down much, maybe five or 10 feet.’ But he’ll be fine. He’s working on it.”
Every starting position player but Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche played nine innings today because of the split-squad game in Kissimmee, which took half of the roster away from the Nationals’ facilities here in Viera. Wilson Ramos caught five innings today and was relieved by Kurt Suzuki in the sixth, and Johnson said that Ramos will start again tomorrow, marking his first back-to-back games behind the plate since blowing out his right knee last May.
Johnson was asked after the game whether he’s given any more thought to who will be his starting catcher on opening day. With Ramos still working back from his injury, Johnson has previously said that Suzuki will be behind the plate to open the season.
“You’re jumping way ahead,” Johnson responded. “You know how I don’t like that. Give me another couple weeks, will ya? I gave you a starting pitcher today. Now you’re going for the whole thing? Next you’re going to want a starting lineup.”