WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper continues to show that he should be the MVP of the National League. He drove in three runs and helped the Nationals defeat the Marlins, 5-2, at Nationals Park on Saturday.
The Nats gained ground in the National League East race as the Mets were blanked by the Yankees, 5-0. Washington is now seven games behind New York in the NL East. The magic number for the Mets to win the division remains at eight.
"We were lucky enough to get the win today," Harper said. "The Yankees beat the Mets today. We just have to keep winning ballgames, doing our thing. Hopefully by the end, we are two or three games out going into New York [for the final three games of the regular season], and we'll see what happens."
Marlins left-hander Brad Hand couldn't take advantage of the lead he was given. He ended up losing the game by walking six batters in 4 2/3 innings. Most of the damage was done in the fifth inning when the Nationals scored three runs. Harper highlighted the scoring with a game-tying sacrifice fly, which capped a 10-pitch at-bat. Ian Desmond drew a walk with the bases loaded to put Washington ahead.
"It just seemed like he lost his release point there after the walks started," Marlins manager Dan Jennings said. "I thought he had his best stuff against Harper and gave up a sac fly, but he made some outstanding pitches. And then the two walks after that were tough. I probably should've went and got him. I probably stayed a batter too late."
Harper added to the scoring in the seventh inning, when he hit his 41st home run of the season off right-hander Kyle Barraclough, a two-run shot over the right-field wall.
Zimmermann ended up getting the win, pitching six innings and allowing two runs on six hits.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED A three-spot: The Nationals took a one-run lead by scoring three runs in the fifth inning. After Tyler Moore hit a solo home run, Hand had a tough time finding the strike zone. He walked four batters in the inning -- the last of which drove in a run -- and found himself in a 10-pitch battle with Harper, who hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Zimmermann. More >
Ready, Set, Gordon: For the third time in as many games, Dee Gordon led off with a base hit. He was forced out at second on a fielder's choice, but his at-bat started a three-hit, two-run first inning.
"That was good to see. Put the two numbers up there and jump out of the gate," Jennings said.
Getting away from him: Moore's home run was Hand's first major mistake, but he allowed five of the next six batters to reach base. The only out recorded in that stretch was the best showdown of the day. With the bases loaded, Hand jumped ahead of Harper 1-2. Harper fouled off a slider, took another for a ball and proceeded to foul off the next four offerings from Hand. On the 10th pitch, Harper squared up an 87-mph slider just enough to drive it into right field for a sacrifice fly. From there, Hand unraveled, walking the next two hitters to bring his total for the game to six.
"[Harper's] one of the best players in the game, and he's putting up a great year," Hand said. "I made some really good pitches to him, and he kept fouling 'em off, fouling 'em off, fouling 'em off. And then he got enough of one to get a deep fly ball and get a run in."
Zimmermann relies on breaking stuff: Zimmermann got off to a slow start because he had problems with his fastball command. So the veteran righty had to rely on his breaking stuff. For example, he threw over 30 sliders and several curveballs.
"I was throwing fastballs and the Marlins were hitting them, so I had to change up my game plan a little bit," Zimmermann said. "[They] gave me the first bunch in the face, and I had to shut them down after that. I was throwing everything. I threw more sliders than I would like."
"You just have to find some way to get it done. We're in the big leagues. We should be better than that. We should be able to get the job done. Refocus and throw some strikes." -- Hand, on his fifth-inning troubles
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Gordon has led off the last three games with a hit, bringing his total to 38 leadoff hits this year. Charlie Blackmon leads baseball with 39 leadoff singles.
WHAT'S NEXT Marlins:Justin Nicolino (3-3, 3.81) will pitch Sunday's 1:35 p.m. ET matinee finale against Washington. Nicolino has made nine Major League starts in his rookie season, and Sunday's will be his first against the Nationals.
Nationals: Right-hander Stephen Strasburg takes the mound Sunday. He had arguably his best start of the season in a 4-0 victory over the Phillies his last time out. He pitched eight scoreless innings, didn't allow a baserunner to reach scoring position and struck out a career-high-tying 14 batters.