Washington rallies past Houston for 3-2 victory

There’s no ‘W’ next to the name of pitcher Jordan Zimmermann in the box score. But the Washington Nationals know better. No one was more responsible for their 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros on Wednesday night before 14,520 at Nationals Park.

Keeping Washington close with seven stingy innings of four-hit, no-walk, one-run work, Zimmermann paved the way for the Nats’ third straight victory over the visitors. Rallying for two runs in the bottom of the eighth off three misfiring relief pitchers, Washington (10-3) won for the eighth time in its last nine games.

It was another night of stellar starting pitching and sparse, but clutch offense as the Nats totaled just five hits. It was just enough as Washington continues to win with a familiar formula. The Nats are 5-2 in one-run games.

“It makes for interesting ball games, a lot of strategy going on,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said.

One maneuver that worked beautifully was a hit-and-run, which keyed the winning rally. After drawing a leadoff walk, Danny Espinosa took off from first base on a 1-2 pitch and Ryan Zimmerman guided a grounder through the right side of the infield vacated by covering Houston second baseman Jose Altuve.

Subsequent walks to Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth tied it 2-2. Then with one out, Nats catcher Wilson Ramos hit a sacrifice fly to medium centerfield, chasing home Zimmerman with the go-ahead run and setting the scene for a 1-2-3 ninth by closer Henry Rodriguez, who earned his third save.

The Nats pushed across the key runs with the benefit of one ground ball hit, but their patience at the plate was key as they worked the count against three different Astros pitchers, drawing bases on balls. Espinosa’s came after a first-pitch strike. LaRoche’s walk came after being in an 0-2 hole. Werth took ball four over the middle of the plate, just below the knees.

“That patch where we laid off some pitches in the zone. Jayson Werth had a good at-bat there,” Johnson said. “I think it’s going to eventually all come together.”

That already has happened for the Nats starters, who have a major-league high nine quality starts. Over the last nine games, no Nats starter has yielded more than two earned runs. On his way to his no-decision, Zimmermann (0-1) lowered his ERA to 1.29 in three starts.

“I just try and battle and keep the team in the game as long as I possibly can,” Zimmermann said. “Fortunately I was able to go seven innings again tonight. The bats came around late. Better late than never.”

The only run Houston (4-8) managed to score off Zimmermann came in the fourth via a drag-bunt single by leadoff hitter Jordan Schafer, a stolen base and a ground ball single by Carlos Lee.

"I was worried that he was going to have a great game and get an 'L'" Johnson said. "He keeps pitching like that, he's gonna get plenty of [wins]."

Houston infielder Marwin Gonzalez had the Astros only loud hit off Zimmermann, a two-out double off the wall in right-center. But Zimmermann whiffed Houston starting pitcher Lucas Harrell (1-0).

“I felt great again,” Zimmermann said. “Fastball was really good tonight and I was able to make some breaking pitches when I needed to.”

The Nats got their first run in the bottom of the seventh on opposite-field doubles by lefties Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina to chase Harrell. But Houston countered off reliever Ryan Mattheus (2-0), who surrendered a double to Jason Castro and a two-out single by Schafer, but got the win when the Nats rallied in their half of the inning.

“It’s Natitude,” Zimermann joked about the team’s marketing slogan. “Everyone’s happy, excited, upbeat, really confident and it shows on the field.”

Notes: The Nats will try to complete a four-game sweep of the Astros on Thursday night. In a battle of hard-throwing right-handers, Edwin Jackson (1-0) opposes Bud Norris (0-0).