WASHINGTON — Ryan Zimmerman came forward to make a head-high running catch on a slicing line drive off the bat of Chase Utley, a routine play that drew a disproportionately grand ovation from the home fans.
“That’s almost the awkward part of it,” Zimmerman said. “Yeah, I caught the ball. Yeah, like, ‘I can catch a fly ball.'”
He might have been embarrassed by all the fuss, but it was nevertheless a landmark moment in career of the player long considered the face of the Washington Nationals franchise. It was his first putout as an outfielder after more than 1,100 games as a third baseman, part of a good night all around for him and his club Tuesday in a 7-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Jordan Zimmermann rebounded from a mini-slump to throw eight scoreless innings, Zimmerman hit a pair of doubles and handled his two chances with aplomb in left field, and the Nationals moved back to .500 by taking the opener of the three-game series.
“There’s nothing like getting into the first game and getting a couple of balls,” Zimmerman said. “And getting a couple of hits helped, too.”
Zimmermann (4-2) allowed five hits and struck out four, recovering well from four middling starts that had raised his usually impeccable ERA to 4.07. He got all the support he needed when the Nationals scored three in the third inning off David Buchanan (1-2), making his third career start.
“May was a pretty rough month for me, and hopefully June has better things to come,” Zimmermann said. “I wanted to go nine, but eight’ll be good enough.”
Zimmerman went 2 for 4 with one RBI after being reinstated before the game following 44 games on the disabled list with a broken right thumb. Of greater interest was his move to the outfield, a switch necessitated by his throwing problems and the need for a strong hitter to play left field while Bryce Harper recovers from thumb surgery.
Zimmerman said he was initially hesitant to try the outfield, but he realized his chronic shoulder problems mean his days as a regular third baseman are numbered. Ever the team player, he said he just wanted to help the club win — even if there’s likely not a Gold Glove in it for him, like the one he won playing third in 2009.
“I feel like I’m athletic enough to at least blend in,” he said. “And not cause problems.”
Like many infielders-turned-outfielders before him, he learned the action isn’t as fast and furious when stationed 300 feet from home plate. Playing deeper than a usual left fielder and using a glove borrowed from teammate Jayson Werth, he fielded only the liner from Utley and a shallow flyout by Marlon Byrd in the sixth before being removed for defensive replacement Nate McLouth after seven innings.
There was no complaint about the lack of work.
“That means our pitchers are doing a good job,” Zimmerman said. “I just catch what comes to me.”
It’s Zimmerman’s bat that’s really needed by the Nationals, who slumped at the plate for most of last month and have been hovering around .500 in the NL East. They started hitting better in a weekend series against the Texas Rangers, however, and have scored 26 runs in their last four games.
Zimmerman doubled to left in the second and to right in the fifth, and each time a black padded glove was brought to him to wear to protect his thumb as he ran the bases. Werth added a two-run double in the third, Denard Span had three hits, and Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon homered for the Nationals.
The Phillies lost their fourth straight and were shut out for the eighth time this season, failing to get any impetus from a pregame team meeting called by manager Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg addressed focus and fundamentals, but there’s only so much the manager could do about Zimmermann’s mid-90s fastball and debilitating slider. Philadelphia is 9-18 since May 4.
“We weren’t able to get anything going offensively, got shut down by a good pitcher,” Sandberg said. “He kind of set the tone for the game.”
NOTES: The Phillies optioned RHP Phillippe Aumont to Triple-A Lehigh Valley and recalled RHP Ethan Martin from Lehigh Valley. … Philadelphia signed RHP Jason Marquis to a minor league contract. He will report to Class-A Clearwater for extended spring training. … Nationals LHP Gio Gonzalez, on the 15-day disabled list with an inflamed pitching shoulder, will make a rehab start with Single-A Potomac on Friday.
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