Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann tossed five shutout innings, striking out six.
Let's start with Zimmermann, who didn't surrender a run for the fourth time in five starts this spring. This outing wasn't quite as dominant as some of his previous ones, but it may actually have been more impressive because he pitched out of several tight jams against a really tough lineup.
In three consecutive innings, Zimmermann put two men on base, and each time he came through to escape without suffering any damage. With two on and two out in the second, he struck out Alex Avila looking at a 3-2 slider. With two on and one out in the third, he struck out Magglio Ordonez looking and then got Miguel Cabrera to ground out. And with two on and nobody out in the fourth, he got Jhonny Peralta to hit a comebacker, then struck out Avila and Brandon Inge on 94 mph fastballs.
"That's a good lineup he's facing there," Jim Riggleman said, later adding: "The hitters he was facing, he made some really good pitches when he needed to."
Zimmermann was especially pleased with his fastball command, which was spot-on, to go along with impressive velocity that consistently hovered around 93-94 mph and topped out at 96 mph.
"I felt like I could throw it wherever I wanted tonight," he said. "That's probably the best control I've had with that in a long time."
Riggleman said earlier today he hasn't decided whether Zimmermann or John Lannan will start the season's second game. (Whoever doesn't get that assignment will start the next day.) But doing the math, the only way Zimmermann could get the call on Saturday, April 2 against the Braves would be if he either pitches on short rest or now waits nine days before making the start.
Things line up much better for Lannan to start that second game, with Zimmermann going in game No. 3.
Whenever he makes his season debut, Zimmermann is confident he'll be ready to go, having completely made it back from Tommy John surgery.
"I'm happy the way things have been been going," he said. "The biggest thing for me was how my arm was going to feel coming back after the offseason in shutdown mode pretty much. It came back strong, and I'm ready to get going."
The way Clippard pitched tonight -- two scoreless innings with one hit and two strikeouts -- he looks ready to go as well. This was an important outing for the reliever, who entered with a 12.79 ERA but pitched well his last time out and tonight had his good, high fastball working.
Guys who only throw in the low-90s can't usually get away with fastballs up in the zone, but Clippard's delivery is so funky that those pitches look like they're coming in at 98 instead of 91, so it works for him.
"That's a pitch that I need to have," he said. "It works in my favor and is tough for guys to lay off. When I'm getting some bad swings, on that pitch in particular, everything's starting to fall into place, it seems like."
Clippard was especially happy that Riggleman let him go two innings tonight. He's felt like he's needed extra work all spring, to get his arm more into the kind of shape he can expect to be in during the regular season when he's used three days in a row or four times in five days.
"I've needed to get two innings, for sure," he said. "The more work, the better I'm going to be leading up to the season. So to get the work in tonight was huge."