While the world outside of the Beltway hems and haws about Stephen Strasburg and his innings limit, one of Strasburg’s teammates is quietly reinforcing Washington’s decision.
Jordan Zimmermann, himself one year removed from being shut down early in the midts of his recovery from the same Tommy John surgery Strasburg underwent, continued his stellar season Thursday night, striking out 11 Houston Astros in six shutout innings to lead the Nationals to a 5-0 win and a four-game sweep to start a 10-game road trip.
Zimmermann (9-8) bounced back from his worst start of the year in a big way, establishing a season-high in strikeouts and allowing Houston just three hits while walking none. Michael Morse blasted a pair of solo home runs in support of Zimmermann, helping the Nationals extend their lead to 4 1/2 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East.
Zimmermann was dealing from the outset, only allowing two baserunners in an inning once, when Brett Wallace doubled in the second and Scott Moore was plunked one two batters later. The 26-year-old fanned the side in both the third and fifth innings and needed only 87 pitches to complete his evening. Those who can’t understand why Nationals GM Mike Rizzo is maintaining he will shut Strasburg down at some point need only look to Zimmermann as defense exhibit A. After an up-and-down last season, his first since his surgery, Zimmermann has emerged as the most consistent starter on baseball’s best staff this year. His coming-out party makes the impending loss of Strasburg much more palatable, and it’s not hard to see Strasburg making a similar leap into more consistent dominance next season, following Zimmermann’s example.
At any rate, the Nationals got all the runs they would need in the second inning off Astros starter Lucas Harrell (9-8). Roger Bernadina led off with a single and stole second, one of two bags he pilfered on the night. After a walk to Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche continued his hot hitting with a broken-bat single to right, scoring Bernadina and moving Zimmerman to third. Morse hit the next pitch deep enough into right for a sacrifice fly, giving Washington a 2-0 lead.
The Nationals next two runs came courtesy of Morse alone, extending the longest active hitting streak in baseball to 18 games. Facing Mickey Storey in the sixth inning, Morse went Beast Mode on a fastball, destroying the baseball nearly up to the train tracks above the Crawford Boxes in left field, reminiscent of the Albert Pujols homer off Brad Lidge in the NLCS back in 2005. Morse went the other way with his homer in the eighth innings, driving a ball to the right field seats to push Washington’s lead to 4-0.
Mike Gonzalez, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen each threw a scoreless inning after Zimmermann’s departure, setting the bullpen up nicely for the weekend after Gio Gonzalez went the distance on Wednesday night.
Champ of the Game: Jordan Zimmermann. One game after his streak of 6-inning starts ended, Zimmermann started another one, and this one was probably his best outing of the season. For the Astros, Wallace collected three of Houston’s five hits in the game.
Chump of the Game: No obvious candidates, especially since Angel Hernandez was working third base instead of the plate. Jayson Werth went 0-for-4 for the Nats, but at the same time, Washington improved to 8-0 in games Werth has played since his return from the disabled list. For Houston, J.D. Martinez also went 0-for-4, and stranded five baserunners.
Next Game: The Nationals continue their road trip at Chase Field in Phoenix Friday night for the first of three against the Arizona Diamondbacks at 9:40 pm. Stephen Strasburg (12-5, 2.97 ERA) takes the hill for Washington against Arizona’s Trevor Cahill (9-9, 3.76).