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NATIONALS: Jordan Zimmermann Strong Again In Victory Over Mets

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

WASHINGTON – That Jordan Zimmermann has assumed the role as the Washington Nationals’ No. 1 starter is purely by happenstance. He started the final game before the All-Star break, and when the season resumed after on Friday after a four-day layoff, the righthander took the ball merely because he was pitching on normal rest.

Of course, Zimmermann is more than a third starter. He’s pitched at least six innings in all 19 of his starts and he hasn’t had an above-3.00 ERA all season, but the Nationals’ rotation has a pair of marquee power arms in Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, a pair of All-Stars with a combined 22 victories.

“He hasn’t been a surprise to me,” manager Davey Johnson said. “Maybe somebody else, but not to me.”

Zimmermann continued his dominance of opposing hitters on Wednesday, pitching six shutout innings as the Nationals sent the New York Mets to their sixth consecutive defeat, 4-3, at Nationals Park.

He allowed four hits, struck out four and walked none, and wasn’t the beneficiary of any run support until Adam LaRoche hit a two-run home run in the sixth.

Steve Lombardozzi added a two-run double in the seventh to provide the insurance, and Tyler Clippard, haunted by the memory of his first blown save Tuesday, nearly stumbled again before closing it out.

With the victory, the Nationals improve to 53-36 – a season-high 17 games over .500 and 4.5 games ahead of second-place Atlanta in the National League East.

Zimmermann, who now holds a 2.35 ERA, improved to 7-6 – the first time he’s held a winning record this season. He’s earned the victory in three of his last four starts, and in the fourth, a 4-3 loss to Colorado on July 8, he pitched seven innings of one-run ball before the bullpen collapsed.

He responded by shutting out Miami for six innings on Friday.

“The first two or three before the break I felt went really well, and I just wanted to finish strong the first half and get some momentum going the second half,” Zimmermann said. “These first two here have been just what I wanted.”

Johnson said he’s typically tried to hold Zimmermann between 85 and 100 pitches this season – he was at 95 on Wednesday when he was pulled – in an effort to keep him strong enough for the second half.

If Zimmermann had a more favorable record on the year, Johnson said, he may have kept him in the game for the seventh and risked him falling apart. Pulling him then in favor of Tom Gorzelanny at least ensured he’d get a chance at the victory and a winning record.

“We’ve been rough on him,” LaRoche said. “We’ve had some opportunities a lot and haven’t got them done, haven’t got guys in. He went and did what he does. What he’s been doing all year. It’s amazing. He works quick, lot of strikes. He’s a battler out there and it was nice to put some runs up.”

Gorzelanny surrendered the Mets’ first run on an RBI single by Andres Torres in the seventh before Burnett pitched a scoreless eighth.

Then Clippard, 14-for-14 in save opportunities before collapsing on Tuesday, entered in the ninth and was immediately reminded of his struggles. David Wright, who went 3-for-4 with a double, turned on the first pitch and hit a home run to left center field, his 12th of the season, before the reliever struck out the next two batters.

Jason Bay then hit a home run, this one three-quarters of the way up the left-field foul pole, to pull the Mets within a run. Clippard hadn’t allowed a home run all season before Tuesday, then allowed three in consecutive nights.

“A three-run lead in a game like that, I wanted to stay aggressive,” said Clippard, who ended the game by striking out pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin. “I didn’t want to walk anybody or allow anybody on base so I’d stay away from the big inning. And I made a couple of bad pitches just up in the zone, out over the plate to some good hitters and they got me.”

Chris Young pitched six innings for the Mets (46-45), allowing six hits and two earned runs to take the loss and fall to 2-4.

Bryce Harper went 2-for-4 with a run, and Lombardozzi drove in Jesus Flores and pinch-hitter Roger Bernadina in the seventh – each of whom reached on a single.

“I’m glad we scored in the bottom of that inning, get [Zimmermann] the win,” Johnson said. “He’s pitched well enough to be 12-2 or something. That was big for the team, big for him.”

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/dcsports/2012/07/18/nationals-jordan-zimmermann-pitches-another-gem-in-victory-over-mets/

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