What to Watch for: 9.12.13

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Washington Nationals (76-69) vs. New York Mets (64-80)

RHP Tanner Roark (5-0, 0.94) vs. RHP Aaron Harang (5-11, 5.76)

Much has been made of Ryan Zimmerman’s adjustments at third base since his offseason shoulder surgery, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Though he’s made 21 errors overall, two shy of his career high, the third baseman has committed just four in his last 34 games, while adding to his career highlight reel with some spectacular plays.

On Saturday night in Miami, he made this tremendous play, ranging to his backhand, then spinning and throwing mid-air while falling into foul territory to get the runner at first.

Two nights ago, late in a one-run game, he laid out to stop a hot shot, bounced back to his feet and nabbed a speedy runner by a couple steps.

Then, Wednesday night, he turned in a pair of defensive gems. First, he showed off his reflexes with a great backhand stop, and followed it up with this charging, barehanded grab and throw.

As Zimmerman’s defense has improved, so has his production at the plate. He opened the scoring with a home run Wednesday night, his fifth in his last five games. It is no coincidence that Washington has won each of those games, matching the longest winning stretch for the team this season and elevating the club to a season-high seven games over .500.

“I don’t know if one has anything to do with the other,” said Zimmerman about his offense and defense both improving simultaneously. “But I say it all the time – baseball is contagious.”

Another thing Zimmerman has reminded the media of throughout the season is the tendency for the players on hot or cold streaks to return to the norm by season’s end; that they usually settle around their career numbers. Zimmerman, a career .286/.353/.477 hitter who has averaged 22 home runs over the past seven years, is currently batting .275/.348/.462. His home run on Wednesday was his 22nd of the season.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Jayson Werth RF

4. Bryce Harper LF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Anthony Rendon 2B

9. Tanner Roark RHP

FIVE FOR FIGHTING

The Nationals have won five straight games and are 7-2 on their current 11-day, 10-game road trip entering Thursday’s series finale. Washington has also won seven-of-eight, 16-of-21, and is 22-9 since entering play on August 16. With 17 games remaining in the regular season, the Nationals trial the Reds by six games, five in the loss column.

DR. JEKYLL & MR. HAREN

After struggling to a 4-10 mark and a 5.61 ERA before the All-Star break, Dan Haren has been better in the season’s second half, flashing signs of brilliance, as he did Wednesday night. Overall, Haren sports a 5-3 record (with a save) and a 3.68 ERA (26 ER/63.2 IP) since the break.

CATCH-22

The number 22 was the number of the night for Washington. Ryan Zimmerman blasted his 22nd home run of the season, which was also his fifth in as many games. Denard Span extended his career-high hitting streak to 22 games with a third-inning double. And Anthony Rendon’s two-out, two-run double in the eighth was his 22nd of the 2013 campaign.

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