The Washington Nationals are 10-4 with Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup this season. This is not a coincidence.
Doug Fister continued to roll, giving up two runs in seven innings, while the Nats (30-28)kept swinging as a two-run home run from Adam LaRoche helped them complete the sweep with a 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies (24-34), their third straight win since Zimmerman’s return.
Now, Zimmerman himself was not the key to this victory. He was 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI, a good game for sure, but not the reason the Nats won. That reason, if one must be pinpointed, was Fister.
For his fifth straight start, Fister (W, 4-1) was dominant. He had the Phillies guessing and grounding out all game. In seven innings of work, he gave up four hits, two runs, no walks, and struck out five. Since posting a five-run stinker in Oakland in his Nats debut, he has a 2.23 ERA in 32.1 innings, and has struck out 26 batters while walking two. General Manager Mike Rizzo has pulled off a lot of heists in his tenure, but acquiring Fister is shaping up to be his best deal yet.
Manager Matt Williams heaped praise on his starter after the game, saying he had “everything working,” and that he “pitched really well.”
The offense was not as explosive as it had been in the past week, falling short of the seven-run mark it matched in four of the Nats’ previous five games. Zimmerman was surely disappointed that his presence did not cause hits to spring from his teammates’ bats for a third straight game, but the Nats are still averaging more than six runs a gave since he came back. Today, less than half that number of runs would have been enough for the Nats to stay ahead of the anemic Philadelphia offense.
The game got off to a somewhat ignominious start, one that may have had Nats fans groaning earlier this month. A Ben Revere double followed by a Chase Utley single allowed the Phillies to grab the lead in the first inning. But instead of wallowing as the Nats fell behind in the first once again, Fister locked down, ending the inning and keeping the deficit at one. Shortly thereafter, the Nats did something else that was rare earlier this year: score a run of their own in the first, tying the game on a single from – who else? – Zimmerman.
Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick entered tonight’s game with a 4.21 ERA, but kept the Nats relatively quiet until the fifth, when the Washington bats finally broke through against Kendrick. Jayson Werth singled home Denard Span after a double, and LaRoche launched his two-run bomb to put the Nats up 4-1. That would be all she wrote, as the Phillies got one back on a John Mayberry home run in the seventh, but the Nats’ bullpen retired all six batters it faced to lock down the win as Rafael Soriano notched his 12th save of the year.
The Nats have now won five of their last six, and pull to within a game of the idle Braves. But they now face a daunting ten-game road trip, with series against the MLB-best San Francisco Giants, the San Diego Padres, and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Williams spoke about how the team was encouraged by its recent success, but was sure to stop short of saying it boded well for the upcoming West Coast swing. “Is it a tough trip? Yeah,” he said.
Speaking about what has gone well for the team, Williams credited the defense, starting pitching, and mentioned a few hitters, but had special praise for one player. “The guy that has really made us go is Denard,” he said, adding that Span is “playing really well.” Indeed, Span is on a terrific hot streak in the Nats’ last six games, going 12-for-27 with a triple slash line of .444/.464/.593, along with eight runs scored and two RBI. Span was hitting a paltry .236 a little over two weeks ago, but his recent hot streak has brought that average up over 40 points to .283. Cries to decline his $9M team option were loud earlier this year, but his newfound hitting stroke and stellar defense have largely quieted any opposition to his staying a Nat.