Zimmermann helps Nats beat Dodgers 3-1 in 1st game
By HOWARD FENDRICH
WASHINGTON (AP) As music blared in the Washington Nationals' clubhouse between games of a doubleheader Wednesday, manager Davey Johnson insisted it didn't matter at all that his team had earned its 90th win and lowered its magic number for securing a playoff berth to one.
"The only thing that's going to mean anything to me is when we clinch the pennant," Johnson said. "That's the only thing, the only number, I'm concerned with."
Nearing their first postseason appearance since arriving in Washington, the NL East-leading Nationals scratched out a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the doubleheader opener, supporting Jordan Zimmermann's six innings of one-run pitching with two RBI groundouts and a sacrifice fly.
The Nationals' 90 victories are the most for a major league club in the nation's capital since 1933 - which also was the last time a D.C. team played beyond the regular season.
"We're really not thinking about that. Definitely, I'm not, anyway," said Kurt Suzuki, who drove in Washington's first run with a fly ball in the second inning. "We're thinking about winning the division."
Pitching on seven days' rest because of Monday's scheduled day off and Tuesday's rainout, Zimmermann (11-8) kept putting runners on base and working around it. He allowed six hits, walked four and hit a batter, but Hanley Ramirez's RBI single in the third produced the Dodgers' only run.
"I was a little out of sync" in the early going Wednesday, Zimmermann said. "The last three innings, I felt much better and was able to control everything."
Four relievers followed him, combining to allow three hits across four shutout innings. Sean Burnett got out of a potentially troublesome spot in the seventh by striking out Adrian Gonzalez with runners on the corners, and Tyler Clippard pitched the ninth for his 32nd save in 35 chances.
Another victory in the day's second game would allow the Nationals to assure themselves of no worse than a wild-card berth.
But everyone associated with the franchise, which moved from Montreal before the 2005 season, keeps saying the real goal is a division title - followed by more success in the postseason.
As general manager Mike Rizzo put it: "Clinching a playoff berth is just one of the small steps in our grand plan."
Two of Washington's runs in Game 1 came off Aaron Harang (9-10), who threw 4 2-3 innings and gave up seven hits.
"He was pretty good," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He got some big outs to keep us in it."
Washington went up 2-1 in the fifth. Teenager Bryce Harper hustled his way to a triple after lining a ball barely out of the second baseman's reach and to the wall in right-center.
Ryan Zimmerman, who got a cortisone shot before the game for a bothersome right shoulder, followed with a groundout to bring home Harper.
Harper's triple was his eighth, the most by any Nationals player in a season since the club moved to Washington.
Another RBI groundout, this one by pinch-hitter Tyler Moore, made it 3-1 in the sixth.
"It tells me," Johnson said, "we can score without hitting home runs."
NOTES: Playing two days after getting a cortisone shot for a painful left shoulder, Washington 2B Danny Espinosa made a couple of fine sliding, spinning plays to record groundouts. He also singled in each of his first two at-bats. ... Dodgers LF Shane Victorino stole two bases to raise his season total to 37, tying a career high. ... Johnson said offseason surgery to clean out Zimmerman's shoulder "will definitely be seriously considered." Rizzo said that if Zimmerman does have an operation, "He'd certainly be ready for whenever spring training begins." ... Mattingly said LHP Clayton Kershaw was OK after getting hit in the dugout during the game by Ramirez's broken bat. Kershaw, out with a sore right hip, has started to play catch. Kershaw won't pitch in a game until he throws off a mound, which hasn't been scheduled yet.
Updated September 19, 2012