Nats rookie pitcher wins major-league debut
Between the rain and the chill, the weather was awful. The stands were as empty as they've ever been for a Washington Nationals game, with perhaps a few dozen brave souls left by the end.
And yet, to Nationals fans, April 20, 2009, could not have been more glorious had the sun been out, the sky a crystal blue and the seats all full. To recap Monday night's happenings:
- Highly touted pitching prospect Jordan Zimmermann won his major league debut;
- a revamped bullpen delivered three hitless innings after having blown ninth-inning leads each of the preceding three games;
- closer Joel Hanrahan earned his first save;
- "face of the franchise" Ryan Zimmerman's $45 million, five-year contract was announced;
- and, yes, the Nationals earned victory No. 2 in their 12th game of the season, using six strong innings from Zimmermann - that's with two Ns, by the way - to beat the Atlanta Braves 3-2.
"I couldn't ask for a better first start, I guess," Zimmermann said. "I mean, getting the win, pitching against the Braves - just a great day."
Zimmermann (1-0) allowed two runs and six hits, with three strikeouts and a walk.
"Everyone was pretty impressed," said Chipper Jones, who tripled off Zimmermann ahead of Matt Diaz's two-run homer in the fourth. "He has a bright future."
Zimmerman, the third baseman who knows a thing or two about high expectations, jokingly made reference during his pregame news conference to "the kid starting today - THE Zimmermann. I guess I'm 'the other guy' now."
The announced paid attendance of 12,473 set a new low for the team since it moved from Montreal to Washington. But perhaps 1,000 or so spectators actually were present to witness Zimmermann's first pitch in the majors after rain all afternoon and into the evening resulted in a delay at the start of 2 hours, 10 minutes.
"That is officially the smallest crowd I've ever played in front of tonight, with good reason. Cruddy night, terrible conditions to really play in," Jones said. "Thankful that nobody got hurt tonight. But I can understand why the fans didn't come out tonight. It was gross out there."
There was also a 33-minute rain delay with Atlanta batting in the eighth, and only dozens of fans remained after midnight, when Hanrahan finished things.
"It was different. It was kind of like pitching in high school again," Hanrahan said. "They've got 10 fans there. You can hear everything they say."
Washington's Jesus Flores drove in two runs and Elijah Dukes the other off loser Derek Lowe (1-1).
The 22-year-old Zimmermann was a second-round draft pick in 2007 who played at Division III school Wisconsin-Stevens Point and hadn't played above Double-A ball until this season.
"Pretty impressive," Nationals manager Manny Acta said. "Especially that this wasn't the nicest day to play baseball. And the kid hung in there, was very patient in the clubhouse, kept himself well composed and just went out there and gave us a tremendous effort."
Indeed, Zimmermann started quite well, needing only seven pitches - all strikes - in a 1-2-3 first inning, reaching 95 mph.
The second inning wasn't as neat: The right-hander allowed his first two hits, both doubles. But neither runner scored. The rookie allowed two more hits in the third, but got out of the inning when Yunel Escobar grounded into a double play.
"I feel I can get anyone out with the stuff I have," Zimmermann said, "as long as I make the right pitch."
After Diaz's second homer of the season, the Braves did not manage another hit all game.
"That was a tough position - a lot of people probably expected him to go out there and throw a no-hitter and just be the greatest thing walking," Adam Dunn said. "And he came out and pitched great. Threw strikes. He pitched as advertised. That's kind of what we needed."
Washington tied it in the fourth, then went up 3-2 in the sixth, with Flores' hit driving in the go-ahead run. With two on and two out, Acta pinch-hit for Zimmermann, and there were some boos from the few fans still around when Alex Cintron was announced as the batter. Cintron flied out.
As he explained before the game, Acta likes to take out young pitchers when they're tied or leading.
Zimmerman did not complain. Later, the victory secured, he was looking forward to going to his apartment for a celebration with his parents, grandparents and 20 or so other supporters who made the trek from Wisconsin for his first major league game.
"It was just the big stage, the big ballpark, the lights, and all that stuff," he said. "I got used to it as soon as I walked out there."
Zimmerman had a hit and scored a run. ... Braves C Brian McCann was out of the starting lineup for a second consecutive game because of blurred vision. He is to meet with an eye doctor Tuesday. ... Atlanta has lost four of its past five games.