NEW YORK (AP) — Jordan Zimmermann had no idea how to hit a knuckleball. Still, he hung in there at the plate and surprised the New York Mets.
Zimmermann spoiled the Mets’ 50th home opener with his bat and arm, smacking a two-run single and pitching the Washington Nationals to a 6-2 victory Friday at chilly Citi Field.
Ivan Rodriguez added a two-run single, snapping an 0-for-12 skid to start the season, and weary Washington got brilliant work from its bullpen to win its second road game in a row.
“I was battling pretty much all day,” Zimmermann said. “I handed it over to the bullpen and they did an awesome job.”
The Nationals, who took advantage of nine walks by Mets pitching, arrived at their New York hotel about 4 a.m. on Friday following an 11-inning victory Thursday night at Florida.
Still, they outplayed the sluggish Mets, who have given up 27 runs while dropping their past three games under new manager Terry Collins.
R.A. Dickey (1-1) had trouble controlling his knuckleball after splitting the nail on his index finger in the first inning. He received a loud ovation during pregame introductions but lasted only five innings for New York, which fell to 10-3 in its last 13 home openers and 31-19 overall.
“It’s funny. You don’t often go from such a high to such a low, but that’s the nature of the game that we play,” Dickey said. “Nobody in here is hitting the panic button. We’re going to stay focused.”
The sellout crowd of 41,075 on a 42-degree afternoon began to clear out in the eighth as Washington tacked on three runs to make it 6-2.
It was the latest disappointment for the Mets and their fans following a tumultuous offseason in which the club’s embattled owners wound up in a legal and financial mess due in large part to their dealings with Bernard Madoff.
“Of course it’s frustrating and it’s hard and it’s sad. But I did the best with what I had today,” Dickey said. “I fought as hard as I could.”
Rick Ankiel had three singles for the Nationals and Tyler Clippard preserved a 3-2 lead in the seventh by striking out Jose Reyes and retiring Angel Pagan on an easy comebacker with runners at second and third.
Five Washington relievers combined for 3 2-3 innings of shutout ball and the Mets, still missing injured outfielder Jason Bay, finished 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
“At least put the ball in play in that situation,” Reyes said. “I kind of got mad at myself when I struck out there.”
Zimmermann (1-1) gave up two runs and six hits in 5 1-3 innings for his fifth major league win and second since undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2009.
“Jordan was good. He battled through a couple little rallies they had and made good pitches,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said.
Reyes kept the Mets in it with a sparkling defensive play to end the fifth. With the bases loaded and a run already in, the shortstop dived to his left to short-hop Ankiel’s hard smash, then popped to his feet and stepped on second to start an inning-ending double play.
The effervescent Reyes pumped his fist after the play and New York cut its deficit to 3-2 in the bottom half on an RBI double by pinch-hitter Lucas Duda that landed on the right-field line.
Dickey walked consecutive batters with two outs in the second to load the bases for Zimmermann, who lined an 0-2 pitch into right field for a 2-0 lead. Rodriguez was thrown out trying to go first to third.
Zimmermann is a .167 career hitter with four RBIs.
“I don’t know what happened there. I was trying to get the barrel on the ball,” he said.
David Wright doubled to open the fourth and nearly got picked off second, but later scored on Ike Davis’ sacrifice fly. Davis has an RBI in six of the first seven games this season.
Washington loaded the bases on three straight one-out singles in the fifth before Michael Morse walked to force in a run. It was Dickey’s fifth walk of the game, matching a career high.
Dickey issued only 2.2 free passes per nine innings last season, third-best in the National League and a remarkable statistic for a knuckleballer. But he has walked eight batters over 11 innings in his first two starts this year.
“I’m not going to say (the split nail) led to every walk,” said Dickey, who insisted he’ll be ready for his next start because he knows his nails grow fast. “It was just very tough to get the feel.”
Rodriguez grounded a two-run single to right in the eighth off Bobby Parnell, and Ian Desmond had an RBI groundout.
NOTES: Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, a Mets broadcaster since the team’s inception in 1962, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. … New York closer Francisco Rodriguez was booed during pregame introductions. He pleaded guilty in December to attempted assault after attacking his girlfriend’s father at Citi Field last season. … LHP Chris Capuano gets his first start for the Mets on Saturday against LHP Tom Gorzelanny, who will be making his Nationals debut. … After getting in Friday morning, Washington had optional batting practice.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)