Zimmermann shines, Espinosa and LaRoche homer in win over Braves

Washington Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann delivers a pitch to Atlanta Braves\' Freddie Freeman during the second inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game on Sunday, March 24, 2013, in Viera, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Craig Heist, wtop.com

VIERA, Fla. – Jordan Zimmermann allowed one earned run over six innings while Danny Espinosa and Adam LaRoche each homered to lead the Nationals to a 9-3 win over the Braves in rain-shortened seven inning game at Space Coast Stadium.

In his last outing against the Tigers, Zimmermann allowed a lead-off single to Andy Dirks and then set down the next 18 batters he faced, 13 of them via ground balls.

Sunday, he faced the minimum through the first three innings, giving up two walks but getting double plays after each one. Over the two starts, Zimmermann went 27 outs between hits which tells him he is where he need to be to start the season.

“It means I’m close,” Zimmermann said. “Obviously, it feels good to get outs, and it means I’m doing something right. I’m ready to go, I feel good, I feel strong and I can’t wait for the season.”

Zimmermann had to deal with the elements. It was cloudy and gray with winds howling anywhere from 20 to 30 mph, and then as the game got into the eighth inning, severe weather moved into the area with tornado warnings being issued for Brevard County.

“I felt like I was on a ship out there blowing around like this,” Zimmermann said as he was swaying back and forth. “It’s not a lot of fun pitching in this kind of weather.”

Just then, the tornado warning alarm went off for people to hear in the clubhouse and when Zimmermann was told what it was, he joked, “We gotta go.”

Because of the wind, Zimmermann had to throw more fastballs but overall said all of his stuff was pretty good.

“The fastball was good and the change-up was good today,” he said. “Obviously, throwing a curveball and slider in this wind is not good, just not the ideal conditions for that so I stuck with the fastball and change-up mostly.”

This might be a different year for Zimmermann as far as run support goes. He has notoriously been the one guy on this staff who doesn’t get his fair share, but Sunday the Nats had his back against a good pitcher in Kris Medlen.

The Nat scored twice in the first inning. Denard Span led off with a single and went to third on a single by Bryce Harper. Harper then stole second and on the play, catcher Matt Pagnozzi threw the ball into center field for an error allowing Span to score from third. Later in the inning, Adam LaRoche singled home Harper.

In the third, Espinosa hit a three-run, opposite field, wind aided homer giving the Nats a 5-0 lead. With the Nats leading 7-3 in the seventh, LaRoche hit a two- run shot, also taking advantage of the wind blowing out to left.

Kurt Suzuki and Jayson Werth contributed with RBI singles but the most important thing was the way Zimmerman pitched in less than ideal conditions coming off a dominating performance last time out.

Zimmermann expects to pitch in the Nats last exhibition game against the Yankees at Nationals Park on Friday and he thinks that game will feel more like a regular season game in the big league park.

“Hopefully, there will be a lot of people there and get on the game mound and have a regular game for a change. Obviously, it doesn’t mean anything but still, to have the atmosphere and getting out there is going to be good.”

Harper’s thumb is okay

Bryce Harper, who was kept back from the game in St. Lucie on Saturday because of a sore thumb, went 3-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored.

Harper jammed the thumb on Friday lining a single into right field and he has tried to wear a protective ring on the thumb which he says won’t fly in a game. “Nah, I can’t wear it, “Harper said. “I’ll wear it in BP and in the on-deck circle but going to the plate; I don’t like the feeling so I’m not going to use it.”

This means he will have to hope for more days like today.

“You know, I squared up three balls so I wasn’t really feeling it but I’m just waiting for it to get jammed up again. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen and it makes me square balls up, so, maybe that will work.”

Roster trimmed

After the game, the Nationals announced they have placed RHP Christian Garcia on the 15-day Disabled List, retroactive to March 22, with a right forearm tendon injury. Infielder Carlos Rivero was outrighted to Triple-A Syracuse after clearing waivers. The Nats now have 31 players in camp.

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