VIERA, Fla. - Jordan Zimmermann took the hill for his second outing of the Grapefruit League season on Wednesday. The Tigers managed a run on two hits against Zimmermann, who also added four strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings of work.
“I was attacking and trying to get ahead with the fastball,” said Zimmermann. “The last outing, I wasn’t able to do that, but this one, for the most part, it was right where I wanted it to be. I threw a couple good sliders, a 3-2 curveball that was good. I’m getting stronger and getting better.”
Nationals manager Matt Williams pulled Zimmermann with two outs in the third when he reached 47 pitches (33 for strikes). Williams has his starters on a pitch count around 50 as he moves through the rotation for a second time in the exhibition season.
“I thought he was good,” said Williams. “All first-pitch strikes to every batter. He was really good. Just getting ahead and throwing the ball in the zone.”
Zimmermann took advantage of the opportunity to face an American League team that’s not on the Nationals’ schedule this year.
“I was throwing everything,” he said. “Obviously, we’re not going to see these guys during the season, so I was actually setting guys up and pitching the way I would during the season. For the most part, it went well.”
Drew Storen made his first game appearance when he came on to pitch the fourth inning. He allowed one run on two hits, but Williams said he was happy with how his closer threw the ball.
The Nats touched up Tigers starter David Price for four runs on four hits in his two innings of work. Wilmer Difo wasted no time lining Price’s first pitch past the bag at third for a leadoff double. Difo, who has never played above Single-A, didn’t appear fazed facing Price, the majors’ reigning strikeout leader.
“First pitch, yeah. I’m ready first pitch. Ready for the fastball. Attack. Aggressive,” said Difo excitedly.
Williams is familiar with Difo’s style and wasn’t surprised with the 22-year-old’s approach against Price, a former AL Cy Young Award winner.
“I don’t think it matters,” said Williams. “He loves to play and if somebody throws a fastball in there, he’s going to take a whack at it. That’s a good thing. This year, he’s adapted really well to being around the guys and not being intimidated and walking up there aggressive, which is good to see.”
A few batters later, Ryan Zimmerman doubled home Difo for the first run of the game, which the Nationals won 9-2.
Difo delivered again an inning later when he pounded another Price fastball deep to the gap in left-center for a two-out triple ,scoring Derrick Robinson. Difo, the Nationals’ top infield prospect, is now 4-for-9 with two RBIs in Grapefruit League play.
“I just think he’s well on his way to being a big leaguer,” said Williams. “It’s early yet for him. He hasn’t even reached Double-A yet. He can certainly hit a fastball, which is great - that’s where you start. We’ve see him swing at some bad breaking balls, too, but that’s just being young.”
“He plays both middle infield positions. He’s got good action in the infield. He’s got speed, runs the bases well, so it’s a pretty good package for him. He can do a lot of things on the baseball field that can help you win. I think it’s just a matter of him getting at-bats.”
Difo said he prefers playing shortstop, but also likes second base, while Williams added it will be a question of need and where he’s comfortable when it’s time for Difo to make the jump to the majors.
Nate McLouth saw his first game action of the spring today when he entered the game in the fifth inning as the designated hitter. He went 1-for-2 with a strikeout. He lined a ball sharply to right field in his second at-bat for a hit.
“I felt pretty jumpy in the box, which I kind of halfway expected getting in a semi-real game for the first time,” said McLouth. “I was glad I got off a few swings. I’ll start seeing the ball better the more ABs I get, but I was very happy with the way I felt.”
Williams said the plan for McLouth is to continue in the DH role until next week, when he should be cleared to play in the field. McLouth is recovering from right shoulder surgery performed last August.
McLouth was asked after the game how hard it is to not be antsy.
“Maybe impossible, but I got to try my best to stay with the (throwing) program because it’s going great so far,” he said.
Jayson Werth threw for the first time today since his January shoulder surgery.
“Jayson was good,” said Williams. “He’s a little bit, by design, sore because we’re stepping him up, but nothing out of the ordinary. He’s ready to go again tomorrow, so he’s progressing well.”