Some starting pitchers map out their pregame routine so carefully that an unexpected 16-minute delay would totally throw them out of whack. Jordan Zimmermann is not one of those pitchers.
Zimmermann needed to wait a bit longer than normal to throw his first pitch tonight because the umpires got stuck in traffic and were late to the stadium. There apparently was an immigration rally at the Capital today, which caused a massive backup, and the unsuspecting umps got caught up in it.
The game didn’t get underway until 7:21 p.m., but Zimmermann didn’t appear to be lacking any of his usual sharp stuff.
“It didn’t seem to bother Zim too much,” Johnson said. “He pitched a great ballgame.”
Zimmermann allowed just two runs on seven hits over seven innings, mixing his pitches nicely, working quickly and avoiding big innings. He was at 90 pitches through seven, but instead of opting to send Zimmermann out for the eighth, Johnson went to his bullpen, calling on Drew Storen.
“Very rarely last year did I take him over 100 (pitches),” Johnson said of Zimmermamnn. “He’s usually very pitch-efficient. I’ll go further with him, but he had a long delay going into the seventh. I’m just not going to push him at that point. I’ve got the people I want coming in. He’s made a lot of great strides since ‘11. He’s gone further seems like every year. I mean, seven innings this time a year with a low pitch count.”
White Sox starter Gavin Floyd breezed his way through the Nationals lineup his first time through the order, striking out three and allowing just one ball out of the infield. Things turned the second time Nats hitters came to the plate, though. They put up five runs on Floyd from the fourth through the sixth innings, knocking the right-hander from the game after 5 1/3.
“It seemed like the first two innings he was unhittable and then the third inning, it looked like he lost a little something,” Johnson said. “He couldn’t throw the ball over. He was really hitting his spots the first two innings and then he got a little out of sorts for some reason. I was hoping it was that first at-bat. He swung hard. First time he’s probably hit in a year or so. But he’s a good pitcher. We beat a good pitcher.”
Bryce Harper got the Nats on the board in the fourth, demolishing a first-pitch cutter from Floyd into the second deck in right field. ESPN’s Hit Tracker measured the blast at 420 feet. It didn’t miss the third deck by much.
“That was pretty good,” Johnson said. “But that was fun to watch, that one. Threw a little cutter that didn’t cut that much and he got all of it. ... He’s not going to get cheated. I like that.”
Ian Desmond got off to a 2-for-14 start to the season, leading Johnson to note that his shortstop looked like he was pressing a bit. In his last four games, Desmond has really started to come around. He has seven hits in those four games, including a home run, triple and three doubles.
Tonight, Desmond went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a triple and two runs scored.
“Yeah, I think he’s calming down,” Johnson said. “Tonight, he was outstanding. He hit the ball hard three times on the button. But that’s Desmond. But he did look a little more keyed down.”
The Nats smacked five extra-base hits tonight. In addition to Desmond’s three and Harper’s homer, Danny Espinosa doubled, driving in a run, and he added an RBI single, as well.
“Our whole lineup is loaded with good hitters,” Johnson said. “I like what I saw, especially out of Espinosa. He mentioned to me, he said, he asked me if I’m going to hit for the pitcher (in the bottom of the sixth). I said, ‘Don’t worry about what I’m gonna do. You do anything you can to get on. If you want to bunt for a base hit, bunt for a base hit.’ First Desi hits a triple, and that eliminated the bunt right away. And he hit the double down the right field line.”
A night after allowing a two-run homer in the ninth, Rafael Soriano recorded a less-dramatic save tonight, surrendering a two-out single to Alexei Ramirez before shutting the door. Soriano had allowed two runs in each of his last two appearances entering tonight’s game.
“He knows what he’s trying to do out there,” Johnson said. “The other night, he gave up a couple runs, but he didn’t lose the ballgame. But it’s still early. None of my guys in the bullpen are as sharp as I want them to be yet. I think the cold weather was a big thing. I stayed off of (Tyler) Clippard tonight because I didn’t want him throwing after 21 pitches last night and he’d been in five games out of the eight. They’re just getting comfortable out there.
“The split (Soriano) threw the other night, (pitching coach Steve McCatty) got on him because he slowed his arm down. And I think he was kind of gliding his slider, too. But he spots the ball. He knows what he’s trying to do.”