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Zimmermann looks good as Nats rally late to beat the Braves

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, left, signs autographs for fans before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Miami Marlins Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, in Viera, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Craig Heist, wtop.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Jordan Zimmermann allowed two runs on five hits over three innings, striking out four; Bryce Harper hit his first homer of the spring as the Nationals hung on to beat the Atlanta Braves 6-5 at Champion Stadium.

Zimmermann threw 49 pitches — 39 for strikes — while working on his change-up as he attempts to make that pitch a major part of his arsenal this season.

“He threw some really good change-ups to both righties and lefties,” says Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “He was happy with the outcome and the way the hitters reacted to it, but he threw the heck out of the ball.”

After Harper hit a solo homer in the first off Braves starter Julio Teheran, Zimmermann gave up a solo shot to Jason Heyward in the bottom of the inning. In the second, a Reed Johnson RBI single scored Juan Francisco.

“Obviously, I was working on the change-up and throwing it whenever,” Zimmermann says. “I threw a curve ball to Francisco, which was a strike, and then threw a change-up so I slowed his bat down. Then I came back with a change-up and obviously it was not the right thing to do and he hit it right back at me. Other than that I felt good. The fastball was good. The off speed was really good.”

Zimmermann has been working on his change-up during the off season, a pitch that was not as good for him in years past. However, he is very intent on making it a major part of his repertoire this year and there is no better time than now to be perfecting it.

“It feels really, really good right now and I wanted to throw it every pitch if I could but I knew that wasn’t the right thing to do,” Zimmermann says. “It’s definitely learning when to throw it and the right times and that’s the next step.”

Johnson is happy to see his right-hander progressing with the pitch and thinks it will only mean good things for Zimmermann if he can perfect it.

“It just adds to his arsenal,” he says. “It’s such a great pitch because basically, he’s pretty hard and all of his pitches are good. But when you can get them off the hard stuff with something like that, I mean, hitters were taking funny swings at it.”

Zimmermann has two starts in the books this spring. He allowed three runs on seven hits over six innings of work, pitching to an ERA of 4.50. He walked one and struck-out five, but from his first start to this one, it’s a work in progress.

“Right now it’s about building up arm strength and throwing more and more pitches. Obviously, I wanted to go four but I threw 51 or 52 pitches and threw a decent amount of change-ups so I am really pleased with this outing.”

Clippard’s first time out

Tyler Clippard made his first appearance of the spring and threw a perfect inning with a strikeout. Clippard has been taking it slow during the spring, as have some of the other relievers. It’s all part of Johnson’s plan to not over-work guys with the longer spring due to the World Baseball Classic.

“Absolutely, we had talked earlier in the spring and that’s what we wanted to do collectevly and I’m glad he’s letting me do that, take my time, and prepare for April 1st,” Clippard says.

“Just the way the hitters were reacting to your stuff and it looked pretty normal, which is good, it’s a good sign. I feel good out there. My velo was good. I took a peak a couple of times and that’s all you are looking for in a Spring Training outing this early.”

Bats come to life

Trailing 4-1, the Nationals came up with a 5-run, 8th inning to take a 6-4 lead. Will Rhymes singled home a run, Steven Souza drew a bases-loaded walk and Carlos Rivero came through with a 3-run double.

The Nats had to hold the lead in the ninth. After Todd Cunningham singled home a run off Jeremy Accardo, Jordan Parraz hit a ball up the middle that Rhymes dove for, keeping the ball in the infield and preventing the tie run from scoring.

“Nobody wants extra-innings in Spring Training,” Rhymes says. “I was just trying to keep the ball in the infield in that situation and luckily the ball bounced up a little bit and I was able to get to it.”

Off to Jupiter

It’s a rematch of the NLDS as the Nats travel to Jupiter to take on the Cardinals at 1:05 p.m. Saturday. Gio Gonzalez will make his second start and he will be opposed by Adam Wainwright.

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