Jordan Zimmermann dodges “a bullet” as Nats shut down Astros

VIERA, Fla. - It was just two days ago that Nationals manager Matt Williams got a scare when Gio Gonzalez fell to the ground on a ball hit hard back up the box.

Some hearts probably skipped a beat in the third inning of today’s 2-1 win over the Astros when Jordan Zimmermann was knocked off his feet on a ball Robbie Grossman smoked right at him. Zimmermann was able to quickly get his glove up to deflect the ball while falling backward. He popped up and located the ball, making a throw to first that flew errantly past Ryan Zimmerman and allowed Grossman to advance all the way to third. Grossman eventually scored the only run of the day for the Astros. It was an unearned run for Zimmermann, who also scattered three hits with three strikeouts and a walk in four innings.

“When I looked at the replay, the ball was middle-middle,” Zimmermann said. “I was just lucky to get a glove on it.”

Jordan-Zimmermann-NLDS-2.jpgWilliams went to the mound with pitching coach Steve McCatty and a Nationals trainer to check on Zimmermann, who was fine and remained in the game.

“We don’t need any of those right now,” Williams said. “It’s no fun when he goes down on the mound. Got him in the glove. He’s really good at protecting himself, but that was a bullet. All’s good. I thought he threw really well. Got his innings in, got his ups in, pounds the zone like he always does.”

Zimmermann has a 1.02 ERA in 8 2/3 innings this spring, allowing six hits with seven strikeouts and two walks.

“I felt good,” Zimmermann said. “Just getting stronger every time out and building up the pitches. I feel like everything’s right where it needs to be. I threw a few balls with the fastball today not getting ahead of guys, so I guess I could work on that a little bit. But for the most part, the off-speed stuff is there and I’m happy to be where I’m at.”

Michael A. Taylor jumpstarted the Nats’ offense right out of the gate, leading off the game with a triple that one-hopped the wall in center field. He tagged and scored moments later when Ian Desmond lifted a sacrifice fly to shallow right field. It was Taylor’s second triple of the spring to go along with a homer and a double for a .286 average. However, he did have three more strikeouts today and now had totaled 10 in 21 at-bats this exhibition season. That’s a concern for Williams, who has mentioned Taylor as a potential option for the leadoff spot with Denard Span out.

Aaron Barrett pitched a shaky ninth inning, giving up a hit and a walk before escaping to preserve the win for the Nats. Williams once again addressed whether he had any doubts with Barrett in big-game situations after last year’s forgettable appearance in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.

barrett-follows-through-sidebar.jpg“Well, I don’t know about learning anything from anything,” Williams said. “He was a guy that was on our team last year that we called upon to go get Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen and any other tough right-handed hitter with runners on base, less than two out. Because things didn’t go well in one game doesn’t matter for him and doesn’t matter for us. What matters is he continues to do what he does. He’s a vital part of us, and a part of why we got to where we got to. Without him, we wouldn’t have got there.”

The Nationals optioned left-hander Felipe Rivero to Double-A Harrisburg after the game. He pitched four innings this spring, including two today. He didn’t give up a run on two hits with four strikeouts.

“He really opened some eyes this spring,” Williams said. “Fastball in the mid-90s. Breaking ball to go along with it. Composed. Took to heart some things that Cat and he talked about his preparation, his ability to come in as a reliever during this spring. The fact of the matter is, barring some kind of injury, he’s just not going to get any more opportunities. Want him to be a starter for the rest of the spring. We need to get him down there and make sure he’s going on his process to start.”

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