Zimmermann shines, shuts out Twins

Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson called a pregame team meeting aimed at boosting morale. Then he noticed something disconcerting about his starting pitcher.

”He had the neck brace on,” Johnson said. ”And I was a little worried.”

Jordan Zimmermann said the brace was actually a heating pad for his neck, which has been stiff on-and-off for a couple of weeks. He not only made the start, he pitched another gem: two hits over seven scoreless innings in a 7-0 win over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.

”It was still a little tight a couple of days ago, so I didn’t want to take any chances,” Zimmermann said. ”So I figure heat it up and it’ll be good to go.”

Zimmermann (9-3) struck out eight with a season-high 111 pitches while dropping his ERA to 2.00. He’s tied with Boston’s Clay Buchholz, Arizona’s Patrick Corbin and St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright for most wins in the majors.

”I’m hoping he wears that neck brace every time he goes out,” Johnson said. ”That was a heck of a game.”

Johnson also joked that he might have to hold more team meetings after seeing some rare signs from his offense. The Nationals, who hadn’t scored more than three runs for seven straight games, managed to get five across in one inning as they broke a two-game losing streak and moved within one game of .500.

”I’ll have it every day if we get 14 hits and seven runs, but it wasn’t much of a meeting,” Johnson said. ”It was about three minutes or something like that. I was just cheering ’em up.”

Asked what he got from the meeting, second baseman Anthony Rendon said: ”Swing.”

”Just be aggressive,” Rendon said. ”That’s basically what he was trying to say. Just go out there and try to hit.”

Rendon, a recent addition to the lineup, did his part with two hits and three RBIs. Ian Desmond got three hits and two RBIs to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games, and the Nationals were an uncharacteristic 5 for 10 with runners in scoring position. Washington scored a pair in the fourth and sent 10 hitters to the plate in a five-run fifth that chased Minnesota starter Scott Diamond (4-5).

The Nationals fielded an unorthodox lineup, putting a pair of natural second basemen in the outfield – Jeff Kobernus in center, Steve Lombardozzi in left – and a converted third baseman, Rendon, at second.

Rendon fluffed a routine popup in the third inning — ”The only spot that the sun was at, the ball happened to go there,” he said — and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman made yet another error, his 11th of the season, when he pulled first baseman Adam LaRoche off the bag in the fifth.

Regular center field Denard Span missed the game after fouling a pitch off his right foot in Saturday’s 11-inning loss, but he was scheduled to start the nightcap. Usual left fielder Bryce Harper is on the disabled list with a sore knee and was en route for his Monday appointment with renowned specialist Dr. James Andrews.

Nevertheless, Johnson’s starting nine got the job done, with a little help from the Twins. The two runs in the fourth came with two outs when Rendon hit a sharp grounder to shortstop with men on second and third. Pedro Florimon made a nice diving stop, but first baseman Justin Morneau failed to come off the bag to field the late, off-target throw, allowing both runners to score.

The fifth inning included three walks — one intentional — and two wild pitches, supplementing doubles by Zimmerman and Rendon and singles by LaRoche and Desmond, although LaRoche got a generous ruling on a groundball that second baseman Brian Dozier should have fielded.

Such mistakes stood out for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

”I think Morny knows he’s got to come off the bag and keep that one there, and we talked about that afterwards,” Gardenhire said. ”He didn’t know if he had a chance to still get the runner, but he’s got to make sure we stop that ball. And the groundball to second, that’s an error and we just missed the ball. I know they gave it a hit, but this is the big leagues folks. That’s an error. That’s two steps to his right.”

NOTES: Twins RHP Ryan Pressley left the game in the seventh with a sore right triceps. ”Just said he felt something in the back of his arm and we just got him out of there,” Gardenhire said. ”They brought him in here and checked him out. He should be just fine.” … Zimmermann is 11-0 in his lasts 18 starts at Nationals Park. … Kobernus made his first major league start and got his first career hit, an infield single in the third. … Minnesota’s Clete Thomas started in LF for the first time this season and threw out Jayson Werth at home in the fourth inning. … The Twins recalled OF Chris Colabello from Triple-A Rochester as their 26th man for the doubleheader, while the Nationals recalled 1B-OF Chris Marrero from Triple-A Syracuse. Both played in the first game. … Minnesota’s Samuel Deduno (2-1) was scheduled to face Washington’s Nate Karns (0-1) in the nightcap. … The doubleheader was scheduled after Friday’s series opener was rained out.