* Ryan Zimmerman hit the ball hard four times and wound up with two doubles. It began as a frustrating evening for Zimmerman, who was 0-for-3 through four innings and struck out with two on, one out and the Nats leading 2-1 in the top of the third. But two of his outs came on balls that left his bat at more than 100 mph, and one of them was a drive to the warning track in center that was caught.
Finally, he was rewarded for all the loud contact. Zimmerman drilled a double to deep left field in the sixth, then doubled off the wall in right in the eighth to drive in a run.
Zimmerman is now batting .289 (11-for-38) with five doubles and four RBIs in nine games since returning from the injured list. He’s had good nights and bad nights, but he’s encouraged in the big picture.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good,” he said. “I’ve been having good at-bats. Even in Baltimore (earlier this week), I didn’t get any hits but I was in plus counts pretty much every at-bat. So, yeah, I’m happy with where I’m at. Just got to keep going. You can’t get frustrated when you don’t get hits, and I finally got some to drop tonight.”
* The Nationals already held a big lead by the time they needed their bullpen, but one member of that group still turned heads with a dominant performance. Tanner Rainey pitched the bottom of the seventh against the top of the Braves lineup and wound up striking out the side.
Rainey got Ronald Acuña Jr., Matt Joyce and Freddie Freeman to strike out, all on sliders. And he did it on 10 total pitches, only one shy of the immaculate inning.
The rookie right-hander continues to be a tantalizing late-inning open for manager Davey Martinez. He has now pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings this month, allowing only two hits while striking out nine. His only blemish comes in the form of four walks.
The Nats are trying to get more consistency out of Rainey. They seem to believe the key isn’t his arm.
“We talked to him about his consistency with his legs, and using his legs,” Martinez said. “And today he was spot-on with his lower half. If he can consistently do that, he’s going to be really good. You’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it. He shows signs of it. Now he’s just got to be consistent.”
* The Nationals used Rainey for the seventh inning, but they were able to avoid using Sean Doolittle and Fernando Rodney for the third straight night, and that could have a nice domino effect on the rest of the weekend.
Despite their penchant for playing in close games, the Nats have been able to go without Doolittle since Saturday in Philadelphia. That should leave the closer especially fresh when he does finally return to the mound, perhaps tonight if circumstances dictate it.
And if the situation calls for it, Doolittle might just be able to appear in each of the remaining three games of this series.