NEW YORK - Despite an inept start to the season, the Washington Nationals have a couple of reasons to get excited in Jordan Zimmermann and Jesus Flores.
Zimmermann showed off the impressive combination of sharp stuff and steady composure that makes him one of baseball's top prospects, and Flores led the offensive charge Sunday as Washington routed the New York Mets 8-1 for its first road victory of the year.
"It feels great. We know that we're better than our record shows," manager Manny Acta said. "We needed a game like this."
Flores homered and drove in three runs against his former club, Austin Kearns also teed off on an ineffective Oliver Perez and the Nationals improved the majors' worst record to 4-13.
The 22-year-old Zimmermann (2-0) beat Atlanta 3-2 in his major league debut last Monday and stifled the inconsistent Mets, too. Mixing a 95 m.p.h. fastball with snappy off-speed pitches, he struck out slumping David Wright three times and allowed one run with six hits in 5 1-3 innings.
"He's going to give us a chance every game to win," Adam Dunn said. "He's got a real calm demeanour. He's got the perfect pitcher's mentality."
Handed an 8-1 lead, Mike Hinckley, Garrett Mock and Kip Wells provided hitless relief as Washington won for the first time in nine games away from home.
Zimmermann and starter Shairon Martis, both rookies, have all four wins for the Nationals.
It was a lethargic loss for the Mets (8-10), who host first-place Florida for a three-game series beginning Monday night at Citi Field. Converted infielder Daniel Murphy botched another line drive to left field and Carlos Beltran pulled up on an attempted steal, thinking he heard the ball hit the bat.
"It was a mistake. I know that I should slide right there," said Beltran, tagged out easily on the play.
Before this season, Zimmermann had never been above double-A. But despite his inexperience, he pitched with the sort of poise and grit the Mets have long sought from Perez (1-2).
After getting tagged for seven runs and nine hits in 4 1-3 innings, the erratic lefty has a 9.31 ERA. Only four starts after re-signing with New York for US$36 million over three years, he could be in jeopardy of losing his spot in the rotation.
"I'm really concerned about him at this point. I don't know what we do. I'm not going to come out and make a decision right now," manager Jerry Manuel said. "I haven't seen stuff yet. I don't know what it is with Ollie. I'm going to sit down and talk with him and try to figure it out."
Perez has allowed 15 walks and 23 hits in 19 1-3 innings. He was booed off the field by a frustrated crowd of 40,023 - even Wright heard catcalls during an 0-for-4 day that included a run-scoring throwing error from third base.
The all-star slugger has fanned 23 times in 70 at-bats this season, an alarming rate for a player who set a career high last year with 118 strikeouts. He has one home run and six RBIs.
Manuel was asked if Wright needs a day off.
"I think I need one," he said.
Flores finished with three hits and a walk, including a two-run homer (his second of the series) and an RBI single. After driving in 59 runs in 90 games last year, he is batting .327 with 10 RBIs.
The young catcher was snatched up by Washington when the Mets left him unprotected in the December 2006 winter meeting draft (Rule 5), a move that certainly appears to be a mistake.
"He's a good hitter - period," Acta said. "Especially against left-handers, he's a killer."
Kearns' solo shot to centre, estimated at 420 feet, started a four-run surge in the fifth. The ball landed on the painted black turf that serves as the batters' eye at Citi Field, and it was the first home run in the spacious new ballpark that went between the alleys.
"I'm not doing my job and I don't feel good about that," Perez said. "It's not there. I have to just keep working and get better."
Notes: After the game, the Mets designated LHP Casey Fossum for assignment and purchased the contract of LHP Ken Takahashi from triple-A Buffalo. ... The large centre-field scoreboard froze in the fourth with a Mets logo displayed. ... Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to 15 games.