MIAMI -- A day after Ryan Zimmerman's fourth throwing error in five days dramatically changed the course of the Nationals' 8-2 loss to the Marlins, manager Davey Johnson reiterated that he doesn't think there's anything wrong with Zimmerman.
"I don't think it's a mental problem. I think he's fine, and he's only going to get better," Johnson said. "This spring, I thought with the severity of that injury and the [shoulder] surgery in the offseason, and now throwing from a different angle, his arm is a lot stronger. It's just going to take a little while for him to get comfortable in his slot over there.
"And it's always magnified if somebody makes a bad pitch after you make an error and they hit a home run. We're not picking each other up. Good teams do that. It puts more focus on a guy making an error behind him, especially when he's coming back from some surgery. I don't have any concern. He's feeling great and making a lot of plays. We just haven't picked him up behind an error, which we usually do."
Zimmerman more or less admitted after Tuesday night's game that the problems were only in his head and that he's frustrated he can't make the plays he knows he's capable of. And the former Gold Glove Award winner is still making many excellent plays, particularly those that require a quick reaction and afford him little time to think about his mechanics and his throwing.
"He's taking more time, but he's actually, in one fluid motion, fielding the ball, coming up and throwing. That's the normal sequence that you go through," Johnson said. "But his release point, it's a whole new release point. That just takes time for him to get to the real comfort zone where you don't even think about it. That's where we're headed, and that's he's headed, and I really like where he's at."
Johnson said Tuesday night that it could take until June for Zimmerman to feel truly comfortable with his new arm slot, but he described the third baseman's new throwing mechanics as "100 percent improved" since last year.
"I like where he's at. I like his natural throwing motion. He had plenty of time," Johnson said. "He felt so good, he took more time and the ball got away. But that just told me he really felt good. Last year, he got rid of it real quick. This year, he's feeling more comfortable.
"When you're coming back from offseason surgery and you've restricted yourself because you couldn't really throw overhand, that's a major adjustment. ... It's a feel. This game is all about feel."
Harper, still under weather, tallies four hits
MIAMI -- The Nationals hope to have Denard Span and Danny Espinosa back for Friday night's series opener against the Mets in New York, but they returned one ailing hitter to their starting lineup Wednesday night.
And make no mistake about it: Bryce Harper was still sick.
The 20-year-old phenom went 4-for-5 with a double and an RBI and recorded three hits off Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco in the Nationals' 6-1 win over the Marlins after sitting out the previous game due to a stomach flu that kept him up all night.
But Harper deemed himself well enough to play after a pregame IV, and he said he felt "solid as a rock" afterward. He simply wasn't going to sit out Wednesday, even as bad as he felt on the field.
"I was still struggling. The biggest thing was trying to keep everything down and fluids down," Harper said afterward. "I think getting in the box and swinging made my head spin a little bit. It was just a matter of trying to have good ABs and trying to get some knocks and trying to help the team out."
Believe it or not, Harper said his worst moment wasn't when he left the dugout to vomit in the second inning. He felt the worst after a sixth-inning double off Nolasco. He was bending over, sick and worn out, but he kept playing.
"I thought he was going to die every time he went up there and he got a hit," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
And he continued to beat up on Nolasco. Harper homered twice against the Marlins right-hander on Opening Day and finished 3-for-3 against him Wednesday night, boosting his career average against Nolasco to .450 (9-for-20).
"Now, it's to the point where I make good pitches and they're still falling," Nolasco said. "I just hope he just doesn't turn into Chipper Jones [who hit .341 off Nolasco] for me, where every time I break his bat or make good pitches, they're still hits."
Span, who also sat out Tuesday, felt better Wednesday but wasn't quite feeling up to speed. He seemed to be hit a little harder by whatever stomach flu bug affected him and Harper. He reported to Marlins Park early Tuesday afternoon but was sent back to the team hotel and couldn't even build up the strength to get out of bed and come back to meet a doctor around 6 p.m. ET, so he remained in bed the rest of the night.
Espinosa had been hoping to return Wednesday, but his bruised right forearm didn't heal quickly enough for that to happen. Espinosa has been saying he'll return by Friday "at the latest," but Johnson was even a bit cautious about that projection, though he reiterated that the injury isn't anything more serious than a bad bruise.
Espinosa did field a few grounders at second base during batting practice, but as of Wednesday afternoon, he hadn't taken any swings since the injury occurred.
"I knew there wasn't going to be any chance [Espinosa would be back in the lineup Wednesday]," Johnson said. "We've got an off-day coming, so that gives him another day. I think he's probably got a 50-50 chance Friday."
Nats have been on both sides of blowouts
MIAMI -- The Nationals only lost 11 games last season by five runs or more, but they've already been on the receiving end of three such blowouts 14 games into the 2013 season.
Washingon lost, 8-2, to the Marlins on Tuesday. The Reds handed the Nationals their most lopsided defeat of the young season, 15-0, on April 5, and the Braves beat them up, 9-0, on Sunday. The Nationals won 21 games in 2012 by five runs or more, and they've taken two games by that margin this year -- both against the 3-11 Marlins.
"Nobody likes to get blown out, obviously, but they say a loss is a loss and a win's a win. I think it's still really early in the season," Ryan Zimmerman said. "I really hope nobody is panicking or worrying. ... We've lost some bad ones. We came out [Monday] night and thrown up some runs. It's just part of the early part of the season.
"That's part of the game, I guess. Last year, we had so many one-run games and close games. It's a little different. I guess it's just so many of them happening so quick. [Monday] night, winning by so much. [Tuesday night], they jumped out to a bigger lead. It just happens. It's part of the game."
Nationals manager Davey Johnson attributed the early blowouts to the Nationals' bullpen performance, though he took much of the responsibility upon himself. Washington's relievers owned a 5.61 ERA and a .289 opponents' batting average heading into Wednesday's series finale in Miami.
"The bullpen hasn't been as strong, and they haven't been throwing the ball like they're capable of throwing," Johnson said. "It's kind of a little bit out of sync, and that's my fault. And we had a couple tough series, White Sox and Atlanta, kind of threw the pitching off a little bit coming out of the 'pen. I'll get it right."
• MASN has hired Julie Alexandria to join the Nationals' broadcast team as a sideline reporter, according to MASNSports.com. Alexandria will fill the role vacated by Kristina Akra, who now works as a host for MLB Network. Alexandria will appear on air for MASN's game broadcasts and the "Nats Xtra" pregame and postgame shows. According to MASNSports.com, Alexandria is expected to join the broadcast team at some point during the Nationals' next homestand.
• Johnson said he is perfectly comfortable with catcher Kurt Suzuki playing every day while Wilson Ramos is on the disabled list. Suzuki essentially became the Nationals' everyday backstop down the stretch last season, all the more reason for Johnson to trust the veteran catcher.
"I've always liked Kurt Suzuki. He's a very smart catcher. He's a very durable catcher. He works hard," Johnson said. "He loves to play. I love to see him play, too."
• According to multiple reports, Matt Skole, the Nationals' No. 11 prospect and their Minor League Position Player of the Year in 2012, underwent Tommy John surgery on Wednesday to repair a torn ligament in his left elbow. Skole is expected to miss most of the 2013 season.