|Photo by USA Today|
So despite playing a Marlins team not expected to compete for much in 2013, the Nationals took pride in completing the series sweep with a 6-1 victory on Thursday. They took care of business against a less talented team and opened their season with three consecutive wins.
“Every game’s a big game, and we’ve had trouble with the Marlins no matter what,” manager Davey Johnson said.
“Not just last year, but through the years. No matter what they put out there, we’ve had trouble with them. So it was good to spank them this series.”
The Nationals split the season series with Miami in 2012, with the Marlins taking nine of the 18 matchups despite winning just 69 total games. In this season opening series, Washington allowed just one run through three games in an altogether dominant showing at Nationals Park.
Nats starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann actually let go of a 19-inning scoreless streak in the second inning. The Marlins had previously been shut out through the season’s first two games and the first inning on Thursday.
Miami broke their dubious run with a solo home run by Justin Ruggiano. The center fielder took the first pitch Zimmermann delivered in the second inning over the right field scoreboard.
“He swings first pitch all the time and I figured if I threw a fastball down and away I would get him to roll over or hit a fly ball,” Zimmermann said. “I kind of left it over the middle and he made me pay.”
Zimmermann had a long day with 89 pitches through six innings of work. He allowed just one earned run, but gave up eight hits to match his 2012 season high.
“I had to battle and make pitches when I needed a ground ball,” he said. “It was just one of those days where you get a couple of strikes on a guy and you want to put him away and they battle you for a few balls and then get a hit off of you.”
The Nationals got on the board early with two runs in the bottom of the first. Jayson Werth started the rally with a single after fouling off four in a seven-pitch at-bat. Bryce Harper then took the first pitch he saw for a single to right field. Ryan Zimmerman hit both of them home with a double off the wall in center field.
Marlins pitcher Wade LeBlanc threw a changeup on a two-two count and Zimmerman got a good piece of it.
“LeBlanc is one of those guys who can kind of throw anything at any time, mix it up. I just kind of stayed back on a two-strike changeup and put a good swing on it,” he said.
“With two strikes, those are the pitches where you just worry about staying short. Those are the ones where if they make a mistake, you hit the hardest, because you're not trying to do too much.”
Zimmerman has now reached base in six consecutive plate appearances. He finished Thursday’s game with three hits, two RBI, and a walk.
Zimmerman’s double brought both Werth and Harper home, but the second run was a close call. Harper collided with catcher Ron Brantly’s elbow in a close play at the plate. He laid on the ground for a moment, but was able to get up and shake it off.
“It feels fine,” he said. “He got me on the chin and it didn’t really hurt too bad. I was seeing if it was bleeding or not at the plate.”
The Nats added another run in the third inning off Harper’s second hit of the day, a single that drove in Denard Span. Harper is batting .500 through the season’s first three games with six hits in 12 at-bats. Today was his third multi-hit game of the season.
The Nationals scored their final three runs off one swing of the bat. In the seventh inning, with runners on first and third, Jayson Werth took a one-one pitch to nearly the same spot he hit the walk-off homer in Game 4 of the NLDS last October. This hit, however, was even further, clearing the bullpen and giving the Nats a nice cushion for the rest of the game.
“He got all of that one, didn’t he?” Johnson said. “He wasn’t real happy the first couple games about the way he was swinging because he was really swinging good coming out of spring training. But he swung really good on that one.”
Werth’s homer perhaps put to rest any questions about his left wrist which was injured last season and a topic of mild concern in spring training.
“I feel good. I feel strong. I had a good winter and I'm looking forward to this season. We've got a good club and I really enjoy playing with these guys.”
The Nationals swept the Marlins allowing just one earned run with three starters going at least six innings and all but one of their relief pitchers getting work. Only Zach Duke out of the bullpen has yet to appear.
Even Henry Rodriguez pitched a perfect inning on Thursday. Working with a fastball in the low 90s rather than his typical high 90s heat, Rodriguez capped his outing by striking out Giancarlo Stanton looking at a curveball.
Johnson was happy to see Rodriguez perform so well and says it should be expected moving forward.
“That’s going to be his role, setting up, late-inning relief. And if he’s on the ball club, I’m using him. Threw the ball good. 1-2-3. Can’t beat that.”
The Nationals now head to Cincinnati to play the reigning N.L. Central champions. The Reds have one of the best lineups in the majors and should prove a big test for Washington.
Werth is looking forward to the series as an early season test, but also just another step in a long season with one big goal in mind.
“We've gone from an up-and-coming team to a championship team in a very short period of time,” he said.
“Championship-caliber clubs they continue to get better. I think that's where we're at. The window's definitely open for us right now and hopefully it'll stay open for us for a long time, but you've got to jump through that window at some point so, as the season goes on, we'll continue to learn and learn a lot about ourselves and each other and it should be fun.”