LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - It looked for a second like the Braves were going to tie tonight’s game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Jordan Parraz singled up the middle just behind the second base bag.
Joey Terdoslavich (boy, what a name that is) made a turn around third and was ready to head for home, but Nationals second baseman Will Rhymes made a diving stop of the ball, hopped to his feet and kept Terdoslavich at third.
One pitch later, reliever Jeremy Accardo got Elmer Reyes to ground back to the mound, and Accardo flipped to first to put the finishing touches on the Nationals’ 6-5 win, their second victory in seven spring games.
Rhymes brought in a run with a single to center during the Nats’ five-run eighth inning, and Carlos Rivero added a three-run double, as well.
“Outstanding play,” Johnson said of Rhymes’ defensive effort. “And he got a big hit, too. And it was nice to see Rivero. I think it was his second hit (of spring), and he crushed it. It was a good day all the way around.”
Not surprisingly, what Johnson was most excited about coming out of tonight’s game was Jordan Zimmermann, who went three innings, allowing two runs on five hits with four strikeouts. Zimmermann needed just 49 pitches to get through his three frames and was really pleased with how his changeup felt tonight.
“The big thing I really liked was the way Zim was throwing,” Johnson said. “He threw some really good changeups, both to right(-handers) and left(-handers) and he was happy with the outcome and the way the hitters reacted to it. He threw the heck out of the ball. When I came over (after the third inning), he was a little upset he wasn’t going back out there, but that was plenty of pitches. It’s a long spring.”
Johnson joked before the game that he’d have to re-introduce himself to Tyler Clippard, seeing as how the righty sat out the first six games of spring before finally making an appearance tonight. Clippard is purposely coming along slowly this spring in an attempt not to wear down or peak too soon, but he looked good tonight, retiring the side in order in the sixth with one strikeout.
“I thought it was great,” Johnson said. “He also threw a couple curveballs that were up around mask high. He bounced them. That’s also a work in progress. I’m sure he’ll be working on them. I think when he was starting he had a real good curveball. It might be a good weapon for him.”
Fernando Abad and Cole Kimball both continued their string of strong outings to open spring, pitching scoreless innings in relief tonight. Abad struck out two and allowed a hit in the seventh, and Kimball walked one but struck out two in the eighth.
Bryce Harper homered to left in the first inning, his first longball of spring. Johnson will give his 20-year-old outfielder the day off tomorrow and then will have him back in the lineup on Sunday when the Nats expect to field a group of position players that should closely resemble the bunch we’ll see on opening day.
“Everybody was upset when I didn’t play (Harper) the MASN game (on Thursday),” Johnson said with a laugh. “But we’re coming on slow. We’re going to have more of the regular lineup on Sunday.”