Nats keep power on, wear down Phils’ arms

NA­TION­ALS 6, PHILLIES 2

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JORGE CASTILLO

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.

LAU­RENCE KESTERSON/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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