Zimmermann turns in a gem but Tigers still beat Nats

Washington Nationals infielder Ian Desmond throws to first base during the sixth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Atlanta Braves on Monday, March 11, 2013, in Viera, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Craig Heist, wtop.com

VIERA, Fla. – Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann turned in his best outing of the spring by tossing six scoreless innings allowing one hit and striking out one, but the Nats lost to the Tigers 5-1, falling to 10-11-2 in Grapefruit League play.

Zimmermann gave up a lead-off single to left fielder Andy Dirks and then retired the next 18 Tiger batters he faced getting 13 ground ball outs along the way.

“Those kind of days don’t come by often,” Zimmermann said. “When you got everything working, it’s a lot easier, and I was keeping everything in the bottom of the zone and that’s why I got all the ground balls.”

Zimmermann was as pitch efficient as one could hope for, throwing 67 pitches, 48 for strikes. and he continued to work on his change-up, a pitch he hopes will be a big part of his repertoire this season.

“If you throw a first-pitch fastball for a ball, you can come back with that change-up and if you can locate that, it’s definitely a good weapon to have.”

Skipper Davey Johnson has seen Zimmermann try and perfect the pitch throughout the spring and knows what it would mean to be able to add it to his arsenal.

“It’s a big pitch,” Johnson said. “It just adds to his repertoire because everything is usually very hard and that get the other team off his fastball and he’s got a hard slide so, it a big pitch. When you add a new pitch sometimes, you’re thinking about that pitch the whole game and when you can put it in, but he had some good hitters up there and made it look easy.”

Zimmermann’s teammates always talk about his tempo and the fact that he works at a nice, crisp pace. Today, as he ran through the Tigers lineup rather easily, the middle infield was getting a lot of work. Eight of his 13 ground ball outs were handled by either Danny Espinosa or Ian Desmond.

Desmond knows what kind of a pitcher Zimmermann can become if he is able to perfect the change-up as the season goes on.

“The change-up is the equalizer for him and he’s known that for a few years but he hasn’t been able to fine one,” Desmond said. “Coming into the spring he’s been throwing a good one, he is trying to get a little more confidence in it but, I mean, you are talking Matt Cain if he can get a change-up with a little more [velocity]. Obviously, any time you can add something like that to your repertoire, its only going to make you better.”

The Nats’ only run of the game came in the bottom of the fourth inning when Adam Laroche hit a home run to the opposite off of Max Scherzer.

Pen roughed up again

Rafael Soriano relieved Zimmermann to start the seventh and was touched up for four runs on five hits in two-thirds of an inning.

Prince Fielder tied the game with an RBI bloop single over the drawn in infield. Alex Avila then singled home the go ahead run. With two outs, Soriano couldn’t shut the door giving up back-to-back RBI singles to Omar Infante and Ramon Santiago.

Soriano was relieved by Fernando Abad who got the last out of the inning by getting Jeff Kobernus to fly out to Denard Span.

“I thought that was the best he’s thrown all spring,” said Davey Johnson when asked if he was worried about Soriano’s struggles today. “I thought he made some quality pitches and they hit some pretty good pitches but I was very pleased with the way he threw the ball.”

Drew Storen pitched the eighth and promptly walked lead-off hitter Tyler Collins. Storen then buckled down striking out Kevin Russo and Matt Tuiasosopo swinging. He then gave up a single to Jeff McVaney, but then fanned Bryan Holliday looking.

“What I liked was he wasn’t thinking and he wasn’t taking as much time setting up and throwing the ball,” Johnson said. “It helps him out because the defense is more alert and you don’t paralyze yourself thinking about what you are going to do. He was more free and easy.”

Henry Rodriguez struggled as well but minimized the damage. He walked Don Kelly who stole second base. He then walked Omar Infante and hit Ramon Santiago with a pitch to load the bases. Collins then hit a sac fly scoring Kelly but Rodriguez stopped the bleeding with only one run crossing the plate.

“I am more concerned about some of my power arms in the bullpen getting enough work to where they are comfortable to start pitching,” Johnson said.

As a result, look for all three, Storen, Soriano, Rodriguez and even Tyler Clippard to get more work in the last week-and-a-half. Clippard has been fabulous this spring, throwing six shutout innings, allowing just one hit in six innings while striking out eight.

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