Facing a lineup featuring zero familiarity with his pitching arsenal, Washington Nationals ace Jordan Zimmermann slammed the door shut on Minnesota's chances of an interleague sweep on the road.
Hard. And fast.
Zimmermann blew through a Twins batting order bereft of Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham in the first game of Sunday's split doubleheader, allowing only two hits and striking out eight, which ties his season high. Minnesota was shut out for the fifth time this year but can still salvage a series split in the day's second game, a 6:05 p.m. makeup of Friday's rainout.
With stars Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg both on the disabled list, Zimmermann provided the Nationals some salve in the 7-0 victory. Their 4-3, 11-inning loss to Minnesota Saturday marked their 12th setback in 18 outings.
"He was pretty good," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Zimmermann, who dropped his ERA to 2.00 and lasted seven innings for the ninth time in 13 starts this season. "He's throwing the ball really well, and we kind of missed a few plays out there and didn't get too many hits. That's a lot of pitches for us, and it was the first time we had the opportunity to face him. He's a good pitcher."
The Twins' plate patience ran up the Stevens Point, Wis., native's pitch count early, but a mixture of his four-seam fastball and elusive curveball allowed him to finish off batters. All six Minnesota outs in the second and third innings came via a swinging strikeout, and the zest in Zimmermann's right arm never dwindled.
Even on his 111th and final pitch of the afternoon, he hit 96 mph on the radar gun in another ring-up, this one against Chris Colabello to end the top of the seventh.
By then, Zimmermann had plenty of run support courtesy of a five-run fifth inning.
"He's been great all year," said Washington left fielder Steve Lombardozzi Jr., the son of former Twins second baseman Steve Lombardozzi. "You know what you're gonna get from him. It was good we got him some runs this outing.
"We've been struggling to get some runs across, so having a big inning like that helps."
Big fifth: That big inning almost never happened.
With two outs and a runner on first, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman smacked a double to right field that put Nationals on second and third. Adam LaRoche then cranked a single off the chest of Twins second baseman Brian Dozier to score Lombardozzi from third. Ian Desmond followed with a two-run single to chase starter Scott Diamond, but reliever Ryan Pressly coughed up a two-run double to Anthony Rendon.
The final damage: five runs on four hits, all with two outs, and a 7-0 deficit.
Gardenhire said LaRoche's sharp grounder, which carried Dozier two steps to his right, shouldn't have been ruled a hit.
"That's an error, and we just missed the ball," Gardenhire said. "I know they called it a hit, but this is the big leagues, folks. That's an error."
A season-low-tying three-hit effort didn't help matters.
Pressly 'fine': Pressly left the mound in the bottom of the sixth with some soreness in his tricep.
Gardenhire said the Twins medical staff examined him, and everything checked out OK.
"We're not gonna mess with him," Gardenhire said "But he should be just fine.
Diamond not shining: Entering with a 4-4 record and 4.66 ERA, Diamond gave up 10 or more hits for just the second time this season. The Twins have lost four of the past six games he's started.
Turn around: Minnesota's Samuel Deduno (2-1, 3.44 ERA) takes on Washington's Nathan Karns (0-1, 6.00) in Sunday's nightcap. Mauer and Willingham are both expected to return to the Twins' lineup.
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