“You could tell from the first pitch of the ballgame that Zim wasn’t going to be denied,” Johnson said.
Zimmermann’s first pitch was a 94 mph fastball that Donovan Solano fouled off, and he needed just eight more pitches, seven of which were strikes, to retire the side in the first inning. Zimmermann notched two strikeouts in that first frame, had eight strikeouts by the end of four and didn’t allow a hit until Solano singled with two outs in the sixth.
The right-hander finished with a complete-game, two-hit shutout in the Nats’ 8-0 win, his 19th victory of the season and fourth complete game.
“He was going right after them, throwing hard,” Johnson said. “His slider was 88-89 (mph). It was just overmatching stuff. Even in the ninth inning, he was still bringing it. So it was very impressive. Well-needed for our bullpen.
“You could tell from the get-go, he wanted it bad. And he wasn’t going to turn it over to anybody in the ‘pen. That was pretty obvious. Every inning was pretty low pitch count and quality pitches. Only a couple balls hit hard.”
Giancarlo Stanton drew a two-out walk in the fourth, giving the Marlins their first baserunner, but the no-hit watch was still on into the sixth inning. It wasn’t until Solano dropped an 0-2 fastball into center for a clean single that Miami was in the hit column.
“You know, that was the only bad pitch he made,” Johnson said. “Solano’s a good fastball hitter, and even a good high fastball hitter. And he left it right up there for him. He had two strikes, and I think it was just bad pitch selection. But I think it was a (0-2) count. You don’t need to work that hard.”
While Zimmermann had the eight strikeouts after four, he only notched one K the rest of the way out.
“After we got the lead, he’s more, ‘Here, hit it.’ Not so much setting up hitters,” Johnson said. ” ‘Here, come on boys.’ Since he had a lot of strikeouts, guys are up there trying to make contact early. That happens when a guy’s got good stuff. Guys are just trying to get a swing on him. He threw some good breaking balls when he was behind. Stanton, (Justin) Ruggiano, threw them sliders when it was a 3-1 count. Broken-bat groundballs. It was fun watching.”
Zimmermann was at 92 pitches after eight innings, and even though he was due up in the bottom of the eighth, Johnson had no intentions of taking his starter out at that point. He and pitching coach Steve McCatty were letting Zimmermann have a crack at the complete game.
“I told Cat, ‘Don’t talk to him,’ cause I know him,” Johnson said. “He wanted to finish that ballgame. The bullpen could use the rest. And 19th win, the most in the National League. That’s big for him. It gives him an opportunity to win 20. He’s got one more start. I knew he felt good. I talked to him the other day. He felt great. When he’s feeling that good, he can pitch a heck of a ballgame.”
Marlins righty Jacob Turner matched Zimmermann zero for zero through five innings, but the Nats got to Turner in a big way in the sixth. They strung together four straight hits to begin the inning, and ended up batting around in the frame, sending 11 men to the plate and scoring seven runs on seven hits.
“We’ve hit him pretty well,” Johnson said of Turner. “I think he was keeping the ball down. He was getting a lot of groundballs. We got a little more patient later in the game and started to get the ball up. We really hit him hard then. (Denard) Span got it going and then it just kept going. I think we had 13 guys to the plate, and even (Ryan Zimmerman’s) last at-bat was a rocket to right.
“Once you get a little momentum, that’s why you make pitching changes, to stop that momentum. And we certainly had it going against him. And the guy they brought it, that was some kerosene. He had a bunt out and nothing but base hits. He couldn’t stop ‘em. Fun game. Fun day.”
Johnson pulled Jayson Werth in the top of the eighth inning, replacing him with Corey Brown in right field. Johnson said Werth had “tired legs,” but both the skipper and Werth himself said Werth would be fine.
The Nats picked up another win, and for another day, at least, they’re still alive in the wild card hunt.
“We’re still in a pennant race,” Johnson said. “The emotion of the ballclub has been great for a couple of months, it seems like. Even when we don’t hit, there’s a lot of energy in the dugout. We’ve got to just keep going, keep taking it to them.”