Craig Heist, wtop.com
VIERA, Fla. – Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmermann hit back-to back home runs in the fifth inning while Chris Young allowed three runs on three hits over three innings in his first start of the spring as the Nationals beat the Marlins split-squad team 8-7.
With the game tied at 6-6 in the eighth inning, Nats infielder Zach Walter hit a long home run to right center off Jordan Smith – Walters second in two days. That was later followed by Carlos Rivero RBI single-plating Will Rhymes, which proved to be the eventual game-winning run. Chone Figgins came through with a run, scoring a single for the Marlins in the ninth.
Zimmerman had three hits on the day as he continues to get at bats as a designated hitter while continuing to strengthen his surgically repaired shoulder in hopes of playing third base by March 18. Zimmerman has been throwing and is still working with his throwing program. He is able to make routine throws but he is still not able to complete 100 percent the more difficult throws.
“It feels good and everything is fine,” Zimmerman said. “The routine plays are fine it’s just the ones that I would have to rush and not be able to set my feet. I’m not quite strong enough to do that yet. Once I get those going I can build off that and go to the games.”
Throughout the entire rehab process, Zimmerman never thought he wouldn’t be 100 percent by the time the season starts on April 1 but admits it has been a slow process.
“Now, it’s just a matter of volume,” he said. “I can throw and I can do everything, it’s just a matter of doing it and unfortunately, you can only do so much in one day. You just have to wait and see how it feels the next day and continue to build off of that. You can’t really fast forward, you have to take it slow which is kind of frustrating at times but it’s the right thing to do.”
Seeing Zimmerman swing the bat is refreshing for manager Davey Johnson, who has let Zimmerman take his time getting ready. Johnson was more concerned about getting his third baseman the at-bats he needed this spring as opposed to being in a rush to get him back on the field.
I’ve never had to worry about him,” Johnson said. “He’s just a good hitter and he’s got plenty of power. He’s been great in (batting practice) and he’s been great all the way around. It was nice to see Harp hit the left-hander in front of him but, we’re getting there, slowly, but surely.”
“Davey does such a good job of letting us get into our groove and pretty much do whatever we want,” Zimmerman said with a laugh. “It’s good to have that and someone to let you get ready and be able to stay back (from road trips) and lift and that kind of thing and just make sure you’re ready for April 1.”
Zimmerman is hitting .500 this spring going 6-for-12.
Young’s first outing
Nationals’ right-hander Chris Young got his first start of the spring as he takes Ross Detwiler’s spot in the rotation while he is away with Team USA at the World Baseball Classic.
Young went three innings and gave up three runs on three hits and a two-run homer to Joe Mahoney in the third. He walked three and struck out two throwing 52 pitches, 26 for strikes.
Young said his first time out was, “erratic and a little out of sync. But physically, I felt fine. My shoulder felt really good. Felt good, everything physically, just the mechanics are a work in progress. I’d throw three good pitches and then four bad ones, so it’s not the consistency I’d like. But that’s what Spring Training is for.”
Walters shines again
Zach Walters hit his second home run in as many days in the eighth inning, which gave the Nationals a 7-6 lead at the time.
Walters has played in 14 games so far this spring and is hitting .333 with two homers and four RBI and he has been working with hitting Coach Rick Eckstein on trying to stand a bit more upright in his stance.
“They gave me the freedom to be a little more natural with my stance and by natural I mean, standing up and using my hands,” Walters said. “Davey says it’s athletic but I say it’s more like a beautiful mess. It’s helped me see the ball and get my timing down and he’s been great.”
Tiger by the tail
The Nationals travel to Lakeland on Sunday to face the Detroit Tigers. Dan Haren will pitch for the Nats, and Rick Porcello pitches for the Tigers.