When Max Scherzer takes the mound for the Washington Nationals this year, you expect that the focus of the game will be on him. Scherzer pitched great, going eight innings and only giving up one run. However, the true storyline of the Nationals victory against the Phillies on Friday night was the play of first Ryan Zimmerman, who did it with the bat and glove to help the Nats win the game.
Nationals Hitters Figure Out O’Sullivan
When the Nationals saw Phillies pitcher Sean O’Sullivan five days ago, they only scored two runs off five hits. O’Sullivan only walked one batter and worked six innings. As usual, when the Nationals are facing a pitcher with whom they are unfamiliar, they make him look like a Cy Young candidate.
Now that the Nationals had faced O’Sullivan once, they knew what to expect and pounced, though not as hard as they should have. In the bottom of the first, Yunel Escobar singled, Ian Desmond was hit by a pitch and Bryce Harper sent a curveball over the fence to give the Nats a three run lead. Eight Nats got up to the plate in the inning, but no more runs were scored other than that Harper homer. Three runs, it turned out, was all the cushion that Scherzer needed to get his first win as a National.
The Nationals had an opportunity to step on the Phillies’ necks in the bottom of the fifth and put the game out of reach while O’Sullivan was still in the game. However, they left two men on base and didn’t take advantage of a throwing error charged to Cody Asche, which gave the Nats an extra base runner.
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Nats Get Ahead Early, Scherzer Can Relax
Scherzer did not have to pitch on a tightrope because the Nationals gave him a three run lead to work with by the top of the second inning. Scherzer allowed two singles in the top of the first, but did not allow a run. Thanks to Harper’s three run shot in the first, Scherzer was able to come out and fire at will. He was visibly more relaxed in this outing than in his previous two. Even Ian Desmond’s error in the top of the seventh, with the score 4-1 in favor of the Nats, didn’t seem to upset Scherzer. He just got back on the mound and got two more outs to end the inning.
Ryan Zimmerman Does It All
Ryan Zimmerman did it with the glove, the bat, and baserunning in this game. In the top of the fifth inning, with the Nats still ahead by three runs, Ryan Howard started the inning for the Phillies by striking out. Darin Ruf singled, which brought up O’Sullivan with the opportunity to bunt Ruf over and put a runner in scoring position.
He popped up the bunt halfway up the first base line into foul territory. Zimmerman made a fabulous diving catch on the ball, getting the second out and keeping Ruf at first. It was a turning point in the game. Scherzer got out of the inning with no run being scored and perhaps some confidence that his defense playing behind him won’t always break down. I still can’t figure out how Zimmerman got to that ball, and I have watched the replay five times.
In the bottom of the seventh, Zimmerman came through with the bat. After Uggla led off the inning with a pop out, Desmond singled. With Harper coming to the plate, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg went to his bullpen to bring in Jake Diekman, who is death on lefties. Harper had a patient at-bat and drew a walk. Sandberg elected to stick with Diekman, which I thought was a mistake at the time. Diekman’s ERA against left handers this year so far is 0.00. His overall ERA was 12.27 coming into this game. You do the math.
Zimmerman made Sandberg pay. Ryan worked the count full, and then doubled to right field to score Desmond and Harper. Wilson Ramos reached first on a throwing error by Chase Utley and Zimmerman scored on the errant throw, which didn’t get far past Howard. Zimmerman manufactured a run with heads up baserunning and extended the Nationals lead by another run.
Once Ryan gets the backhanded pick move down at first base, he will be a potential gold glove candidate at the position. I can tell you this–Adam LaRoche would not have made that catch on O’Sullivan’s popped up bunt that Ryan Zimmerman made.
Jayson Werth Still In Spring Training Mode
It is unfortunate that the Nationals panicked when their offense was dreadful for the first week of the season and added Jayson Werth to the roster after he had only had two rehab games. Werth got no at-bats at all during spring training. Now, he is being asked to use regular games to get his batting in shape. Werth’s average is now .100 and he went 0-for-5 in this game. I don’t know why anyone in the Nats organization thought they could just drop Werth into the season with no opportunity to get any work done on his hitting and at the same time, solve the Nats offensive woes single handed. Hasn’t happened. Won’t happen.
The unfortunate thing about bringing Werth back too soon is that Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson are getting no playing time. This is especially unfortunate for Moore, who is a streaky hitter. He finally started connecting during the last game of the Red Sox series, getting his first two hits of the season, one of them a home run. Just when he was on the cusp of going wild for a couple of games, he went right back to the bench. Robinson was hitting .316 when Werth came back and he hasn’t seen any action since.