Nats reach .500 mark at All-Star break

July 10, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first time in his big league career, Ryan Zimmerman is on a team that heads into the All-Star break with a .500 record.

He even coined a new term, calling the 46-46 mark for his Washington Nationals at this point of the season a “mini-accomplishment.”

Jordan Zimmermann took a shutout into the seventh inning, Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel provided the offense, and Washington beat the Colorado Rockies 2-0 Sunday to get to the Midsummer Classic at .500 for the first time since 2005.

“Being at .500 is by no means acceptable, but I don’t think we’ve been at .500 at the break for a while,” said Zimmerman, who became a regular in the majors in 2006. “So I guess it’s kind of a mini-accomplishment, but we’re not by any means happy with it. We know we have a good team here, and we want to win this year.”

Washington was 52-36 at the All-Star break in 2005, the team’s first year in the nation’s capital after moving from Montreal, but finished that season 81-81.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson was asked whether that break-even record holds significance for an organization that finished with more than 100 losses in both 2008 and 2009.

“Not to me, it doesn’t,” Johnson said. “It’s how many you get over .500 that counts.”

Sunday’s result amounted to a rout for the Nationals, whose previous 10 victories had come by either one run or in extra innings. They ended a three-game losing streak, too — and each of those defeats were by a single run.

“They’re fun when they’re hotly contested on both sides,” Johnson said. “Every matchup is important.”

Zimmermann (6-7) went 6 1-3 innings, allowing four singles. He also struck out six and didn’t walk anyone, continuing his impressive return from reconstructive elbow surgery.

“My slider was probably the best it’s ever been,” said Zimmermann, who didn’t allow a run for the third time in his past six starts. “I felt like I could throw it whenever and where I wanted to.”

He used that sweeping pitch to strike out Mark Ellis, the second batter of the game.

“That was disgusting,” said Nationals closer Drew Storen, who worked around a double in the ninth inning for his 23rd save in 26 chances.

“If you’ve got a guy who can throw his fastball wherever he wants it, when he’s throwing that hard, and the slider and breaking ball he’s got, he’s going to be tough to hit,” said Ellis, who was 0 for 4.

Still, Zimmermann nearly was matched by Colorado’s Jhoulys Chacin (8-7), who gave up one run and four hits in seven innings.

Said Ellis: “You just hate to waste a pitching performance like we had today.”

Bernadina hit a broken-bat RBI single in the sixth, while Ankiel hit his third homer of the season, off reliever Matt Reynolds in the eighth.

“That second run was sure sweet,” Johnson said. “I felt a lot better.”

Zimmermann has pitched at least six innings in 13 consecutive outings, but because the Nationals have him on a restricted innings count this season — and because the temperature was 88 degrees at the start on a muggy afternoon — Johnson removed the righty after 88 pitches.

“I’m sure everybody in the stands thought I gave him a quick hook. Probably was,” Johnson said. “But I do that a lot.”

It probably did not hurt Zimmermann that Rockies manager Jim Tracy held three starting position players out of the lineup so they’d get an extended rest because of the midseason break that begins Monday: Carlos Gonzalez, who recently missed four games with a bruised right wrist; Ty Wigginton and Chris Iannetta.

“We’re obviously very hopeful that we’ll be ready to completely rock ’n’ roll by next Thursday,” Tracy said, referring to Colorado’s next game.

The Rockies fell to 43-48; they were above .500 at this point of each of the last two seasons.

Now the Nationals finally get to feel what that’s like again.

“We started off pretty slow this year, and now we got back to .500,” Zimmermann said, “and I think we’ve got good momentum going into the second half.”

NOTES: Rockies 3B Stewart made a nice catch on Wilson Ramos’ foul pop leading off the third, leaning over — and nearly tumbling over — the railing in front of the visitors’ dugout. ... Nationals RHP Tyler Clippard said Rockies SS Troy Tulowitzki offered to give him a lift on a plane to Arizona for the Midsummer Classic. ... Gonzalez came in to play center field as part of a double switch in the eighth inning. ... Colorado OF Charlie Blackmon, who was placed on the disabled list Friday, will undergo surgery Monday to implant a pin in his broken left foot.

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