Then Zimmermann sent Alvarez sprawling to his knees with a little payback offering, provoking an exchange of words.
It didn’t escalate further. But give it time.
If Saturday’s spring training game — a 4-2 win by the Nationals over the Marlins — is any indication, it could be an interesting season series when the two NL East rivals hook up for real.
Zimmermann, facing the Marlins for the first time since no-hitting them on closing day last season, was hit by an Alvarez pitch in his first at-bat.
When Alvarez came to bat in the fourth, Zimmermann left him eating dirt in the batter’s box in an attempt to get out of the way of an inside pitch.
Alvarez said he wasn’t trying to hit Zimmermann on purpose, and Zimmermann said he was throwing inside to Alvarez because he thought he was squaring to bunt.
None of it looked harmless, though.
And Alvarez said afterward that he thought Zimmermann was trying to send a “message’’ with his inside offering.
“I thought Zimmermann’s was intentional,” Alvarez said through a translator. “It was just kind of returning the message.”
Marlins manager Mike Redmond said Alvarez “struggled with his command” and “had a tough time locating all of his pitches’’ but acknowledged that “anytime you hit the pitcher, it looks bad, right?”
“But he certainly wasn’t trying to hit the pitcher on purpose,” Redmond said of the Alvarez plunking of Zimmermann.
▪ The Marlins have announced an 11 a.m. Sunday press conference at which they are expected to announce the signing of outfielder Christian Yelich to a seven-year contract extension worth $49.57 million.