Nats keep power on, wear down Phils’ arms
NATIONALS 6, PHILLIES 2
philadelphia — Ryan Zimmerman has spent the past couple weeks steadfastly repeating that his mind-boggling success to start the season derives from his being healthy. He wasn’t as effective the past two seasons because he wasn’t healthy. Exit velocity this, launch angle that. He’s made a couple tweaks, but he greets that talk with a side-eye. It all starts with health.
But there is something happening with Zimmerman that transcends a clean bill of health. He is not just another mortal who is feeling well. He’s Ruthian. How long it will last is anyone’s guess, but Zimmerman continued pulverizing the baseball in the Washington Nationals’ 6-2 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night.
In his first plate appearance, Zimmerman crushed a pitch from right-hander Vince Ve- -Nationals at Phillies Today, 2:30 p.m., MASN2
lasquez to straightaway center field that required Odubel Herrera to make a leaping catch at the wall. In his second, he golfed an 0-1 change-up down and in 411 feet to left field for a two-run home run. In his third, he smashed a line drive 111 mph off the bat — so hard that right fielder Michael Saunders, who didn’t have to move much to make the catch, lost the ball in the lights and didn’t handle it. Zimmerman ended up at second with an RBI double.
He flied out to the right fielder in foul territory against righthander Mark Leiter Jr. in his fourth at-bat. Some fans, perhaps sensing the weight of Leiter’s accomplishment, cheered louder than usual.
“Even the outs he’s making are smoked,” Nationals right-hander Jacob Turner said.
Zimmerman’s three RBI pushed his season total to a league-high 34. The home run was his 13th, tying him with Aaron Judge for tops across baseball. He became the 19th player in major league history with a home run in 12 of his club’s first 30 games and the first since 2009.
“Obviously, it feels good to be able to get hits every night,” Zimmerman said, “and continue to kind of keep it rolling.”
The start reminds Manager Dusty Baker of another slugger he managed who torched pitch- ing for long stretches — Barry Bonds.
“That’s what I was thinking in the dugout,” Baker said. “That’s Bonds-like. He continues to stay on the ball. He’s been hot for an extremely long period of time.”
Anthony Rendon delivered the other half of Washington’s offensive output by following Zimmerman’s double in the sixth inning with a three-run home run — his fifth homer in six days — to give the Nationals a 6-1 lead. The padding supported A.J. Cole, who was making his season debut in the rotation after posting a 6.63 ERA in four starts for Class AAA Syracuse.
Cole survived six innings on Saturday. He somehow allowed just one run despite throwing 51 of his 109 pitches for balls and the Phillies (12-17) spraying a steady stream of well-hit balls.
Cole limited the workload for Washington’s fraught bullpen. Oliver Perez and Turner combined for the final nine outs as the Nationals (21-9) won their second straight game without Bryce Harper and improved on the best start in franchise history.
Cole started because the Nationals recently demoted Joe Ross, who surrendered seven runs in five innings for Syracuse Saturday. It was the second time in less than a month that the Nationals needed a spot fifth starter to face the Phillies on a Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park. Jeremy Guthrie was the first choice and he set the bar to the lowest point imaginable after giving up 10 runs without getting a third out. The showing produced a 135.00 ERA that went down as the worst for a Nationals pitcher in their history.
Cole lasted 16 outs longer than his predecessor and received his fair share of breaks to stay that long.
The Phillies constantly made hard contact off the right-hander, but they also gave him three outs on the basepaths and Washington’s defense added a few more.
In the first inning, Phillies slugger Maikel Franco struck out and was called for batter’s interference on Matt Wieters, who was trying to throw out a running Herrera at second base. In the second, Tommy Joseph — the Phillies’ lead-footed first baseman — tried stretching a single to left field into a double. Jayson Werth threw him out by a good margin.
In the fourth, Saunders was caught off first base and tagged out after a brief rundown.
Defensively, Michael A. Taylor made a diving catch in center field after Werth’s throw in the second inning and a running catch on the warning track to end the fifth inning and save a run. Zimmerman then snagged a line drive up the first-base line from Saunders with a dive for the third out of the sixth inning.
“It’s great to have a defense like that behind you,” Cole said, “especially when I didn’t have all my stuff tonight.”
Philadelphia still managed to score a run in the second inning after Werth and Taylor’s plays and Cole’s pitch count read 50 when he got the third out. But he needed just 59 pitches over the next four innings, ducking blows at every turn as Zimmerman blasted baseballs to grant him a lead to protect.
Zimmerman, a first baseman, is batting .435 with a .475 onbase-percentage and .907 slugging percentage in 118 plate appearances.
His 1.382 OPS is more than double the OPS he posted in 467 plate appearances last season when he was one of the least productive regulars in baseball.
“This is as good a start as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Baker said.
It begins with health, which is why Baker said Zimmerman won’t be in Washington’s starting lineup for Sunday’s series-ending matinee. Adam Lind will start at first base. The Nationals don’t want to overburden Zimmerman. They need him healthy.
Ryan Zimmerman hit his 13th homer and registered his 34th RBI this season in a 6-2 win over the Phillies. The Nats won despite Bryce Harper missing a second straight game.