Cardinals get to Zimmermann, Nats

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Cardinals get to Zimmermann, Nats

Updated at 10:15 p.m.

ST. LOUIS -- He's been their most consistent pitcher all season, a no-nonsense right-hander who just wants to be handed the ball every five days and give his team a chance to win.

Jordan Zimmermann insisted he wouldn't be nervous to make the first postseason start of his career. And truth be told, there weren't really any signs this afternoon that the young hurler was nervous for Game 2 of the National League Division Series.

Zimmermann's biggest obstacle, as it turned out, wasn't October nerves but a Cardinals lineup that carves him up and feasts on whatever scraps are left. With another bludgeoning of the right-hander, St. Louis stormed out to an early lead and never let up to win this game 12-4 and tie this series at one game apiece.

There was no dramatic rally by the Nationals this time, only a lopsided loss that quickly erased memories of Sunday's 3-2 thriller and perhaps put the onus back on Washington to right its ship when the series reconvenes on South Capitol Street Wednesday afternoon.

The Nationals still hold the upper hand, needing now to simply win two of three home games. But they'll need a far better performance from starter Edwin Jackson in Game 3 than they got from Zimmermann in Game 2.

"I wanted to go out there and go deep into the game and try to get out of here with two wins," Zimmermann said. "I didn't do my part. I feel like if the starter doesn't go out and do their part, it kind of snowballs with the relievers sometimes, and that's kind of what happened today."

If there was one member of the Nationals rotation who seemed a sure bet to pitch deep into a postseason game, it was Zimmermann. The right-hander failed to complete five innings only once in 32 starts this season and had failed to reach the fourth inning only twice before in 81 career big-league starts.

Both of those three-inning starts came in September 2010, Zimmermann's first month back from Tommy John surgery, when he was on a strict pitch count.

No such restrictions existed today when Zimmermann toed the rubber, the Nationals hoping to get a big-time performance from one of their best young pitchers. Instead, they got one of his worst clunkers at this level.

"That's some of the youth in the pitching staff," manager Davey Johnson said. "He didn't really make a lot of adjustments out there."

This wasn't the first time Zimmermann struggled against St. Louis. In six career starts against the Redbirds, he's now 0-3 with a 9.73 ERA, having allowed 45 hits in only 28 23 innings.

"I just haven't been making my pitches against these guys," he said.

After a quick, 1-2-3 first inning, Zimmermann served up hits to the first four batters he faced in the second. By the time the inning mercifully came to an end, the Cardinals had scored four runs and rendered Zimmermann's earlier RBI single moot.

Needing a bounce-back inning in the third, the right-hander faltered again, serving up a towering homer down the left-field line to Allen Craig and needing a standout play from Ryan Zimmerman at third base to end the inning.

Zimmermann's issue didn't resemble rotation mate Gio Gonzalez's from Game 1. Gonzalez couldn't find the plate at all; Zimmermann might have been finding too much of it. Forty of his 63 pitches were for strikes, and he never walked a batter during his three innings of work. St. Louis' lineup simply put the barrel to the ball with great frequency.

"I just didn't make any pitches," he said. "When you're off a little bit and you're missing some spots and falling behind and then you have to come across the middle, it's going to be a long day."

His team down 5-1 and his starter clearly suffering through an off-day, Johnson decided not to mess around anymore and turned to his bullpen in the bottom of the fourth. Not that the early hook made much of a difference.

Craig Stammen, who looked shaky in his Game 1 relief appearance, again struggled, serving up a leadoff homer to Daniel Descalso and failing to get out of the inning altogether. Michael Gonzalez later served up a 441-foot bomb to Carlos Beltran, adding to the deficit.

Johnson, though, wasn't the only manager to break out a fast hook in this game. His counterpart made the move even earlier, yanking an ineffective Jaime Garcia after only two innings and asking his bullpen to record 21 outs on the second day of the postseason.

Manager Mike Matheny later revealed Garcia was having an issue with the same left shoulder injury that plagued him earlier this season. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the Cardinals will remove the lefty from their postseason roster and add another pitcher for the rest of the series.

"It was obviously a sense of urgency, but Jaime's arm wasn't feeling right at the time," Matheny said. "So that was the deciding factor."

In the end, Matheny's strategy looked like sheer genius. Lance Lynn churned out three innings to bridge the gap, though the big right-hander was tagged for back-to-back homers by Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche in the top of the fifth. Fellow righties Joe Kelly, Edward Mujica and Mitchell Boggs then tossed an inning apiece to get the game in the hands of closer Jason Motte.

Not that the Cardinals needed Motte in the end. Another four-run outburst in the bottom of the eighth off Sean Burnett left this game well in hand and required no closer, sending the Nationals back home with the series now tied up.

"That was our goal," second baseman Danny Espinosa said. "We wanted to get one win out here. That's what we came in trying to do, and we got it last night."

Nats credit adjustments made by Mets for Gio's rough outing

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Nats credit adjustments made by Mets for Gio's rough outing

Having seen Gio Gonzalez just five days before, the New York Mets came to Washington on Monday with an adjustment to their approach. Now knowing what to expect from the Nats' lefty and having their previous meeting fresh in their mind, the Mets were aggressive early in counts and used that method to hand Gonzalez his worst start not only of this season, but in years.

Gonzalez was fine until the third inning when all hell broke loose. He hit Curtis Granderson on the elbow with one out, then saw Juan Lagares single on the first pitch of his at-bat and David Wright homer in the first pitch of his. Wright's victim was an 82 mile per hour changeup and he got every piece he needed of it.

"This game is a game of adjustments, and they adjusted quite well to Gio today," manager Dusty Baker said.

Wright's homer was one of three Gonzalez allowed in Monday's 7-1 Nats loss, a setback that tied the season series at 2-2. Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker also launched back-to-back bombs in the fifth inning.

It was the first time since July of 2009 that Gonzalez allowed at least seven earned runs and three homers in a single game. He hadn't allowed three homers since July of 2011 and had surrendered just three total in his previous eight starts of 2016.

"I just left pitches up. That was it. Just one of those nights," the lefty said. "They saw a pitch up and they were making contact… they were hitters being aggressive first pitch, got hits, and then they started being patient."

Baker went back to the changes the Mets made from game to game in their second look at Gio and within Monday's loss itself.

"They smell blood in the water," he said. "The adjustments, they happen so fast, in baseball like, you go to the bathroom and come back and they got five runs. It turns into a feeding frenzy."

Much will be made about Gonzalez working with catcher Wilson Ramos for the first time this season. Though the difference in his career numbers with Ramos as opposed to Jose Lobaton are negligible, it was still the first time Gonzalez and Ramos have formed a battery this year. The Mets, some may argue, aren't an easy team to get experimental against.

"It was the first time. I’m not going to judge him off one game. He’s a great catcher. Like I said, it was just unfortunate," Gonzalez said.

Gio, who saw his season ERA go from 1.86 to 2.87 all in a five inning span on Monday, instead turned the blame towards himself.

"I was flat today. It was just one of those games. I take this one on me. He did everything right as part of calling the game. If I executed pitches I wanted and bring it down with more movement, different game," he said.

Gio Gonzalez shelled as Mets blow out Nats in series opener

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Gio Gonzalez shelled as Mets blow out Nats in series opener

Postgame analysis of the Nationals' 7-1 loss to the New York Mets on Monday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Last week the Nationals earned two blowout wins on the road against their division rival New York Mets. On Monday, it was the Mets' turn.

In a rematch between Gio Gonzalez and Bartolo Colon, this time it was Gonzalez who put in his shakiest outing of the season, a seven-run drubbing that saw his season ERA jump a full run. Gio got through the first two innings unscathed before getting clobbered for five runs in the third. Three of those came on a David Wright homer to left field, and Gio served up two more home runs in the fifth to Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker. All in all it was a trainwreck of an outing for Gonzalez, who was working with catcher Wilson Ramos for the first time this season.

What it means: The Mets have tied the season series at 2-2 with their fourth straight win overall coming off a sweep of the Brewers. The Nats now cling to a half-game lead in the NL East over New York, who have managed to hang around despite inconsistency in their pitching staff and a serious injury to Lucas Duda, one of their best hitters.

Gio gets destroyed: Before Monday night, Gonzalez sported a 2.59 ERA in 18 career starts against the Mets. In the past two seasons, Gio's ERA against New York was a microscopic 1.20 across 30 innings. And it was only one start ago that he held the Mets to one run across 6 1/3 frames. On Monday, though, Gonzalez was not as fortunate in what amounted to his worst outing in years. Gio gave up seven earned runs for the first time since May 11, 2014. He began the game with a 1.86 ERA on the season and left at 2.87. The lefty gave up 10 hits and hit a batter on Monday, but what really hurt Gio was the three homers he allowed. They were as many as he'd given up in his other eight starts this season combined and the most he's surrendered since July 8, 2011. It was the first time he's given up three homers and seven earned runs in a start since July 20, 2009.

Ramos catches Gio: Many will point to the fact Ramos was catching Gonzalez for the first time this season. But entering Monday, Gio's ERA with Ramos was 3.42 (44 GS), which is not far off from his 3.16 career mark with Jose Lobaton, his primary partner. This one can't be put on Ramos, it was just not Gonzalez' night.

Another multi-hit game for Murphy: One of the few bright spots for the Nats in the blowout loss was another multi-hit game for Daniel Murphy. The second baseman landed a single in the first inning and then another in the fourth inning. It was Murphy's 22nd multi-hit outing in 44 total games this season. Murphy now has 35 hits in May, which has him close to the Nats' team record for one month. Denard Span holds the record with 40 hits in August of 2014.

Up next: The Nats continue their series against the Mets hoping to rebound from a tough loss in the opener. Stephen Strasburg (7-0, 2.80) and Matt Harvey (3-6, 5.77) will square off again in a rematch of last Thursday's Nationals blowout win.

Contract year, family death have not affected Ramos' focus for Nats

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Contract year, family death have not affected Ramos' focus for Nats

Throughout Wilson Ramos' seven-year career with the Nationals, he's always flashed potential with the ability to hit for both average and power, an increasingly rare combination at his position. In 2015, he finally stayed healthy, but the offensive numbers didn't follow like many expected they would.

But in the first month of this season, Ramos caught fire. He hit .316 in April and got off to the best start of his career. He had laser eye correction surgery during spring training and his improved vision was paying off.

And then in May, Ramos raised his game to an even higher level. Through 18 games he's batting .377 this month with a .999 OPS. This has all come both in a contract year and following the death of his grandfather in late April.

Ramos is putting up the best numbers of his career all the while compartmentalizing two off-the-field concerns that would weigh on most players.

"It was a tough situation that I had to deal with. What's helped me out a lot after the passing of my grandfather is talking to my grandma," Ramos said through an interpreter. 

"She told me and reiterated the fact that she wanted me to stay focused, that he was proud of me as well as her. And that the best way to please him is to keep working hard and maintain the level of play that has gotten [me] here. She's actually helped me get through this. My mental state of mind and staying focused here is thinking of her and thinking of my grandpa. Making them proud and just staying with my work ethic."

Manager Dusty Baker knows how tragic the loss was for Ramos. He spoke with Ramos before he went on the bereavement list and could tell what his grandfather meant to him. 

Now seeing how he's responded, Baker is thoroughly impressed with his catcher's strength as a person.

"His level of concentration is big. I'm really surprised how he's been better, because I know he's hurting after the death of his grandfather," Baker said. "And usually that kind of -- unless you're a very strong-minded person or you're playing for that person, you usually have periods of concentration lapses and sometimes you're not there, you know what I mean?"

"So I really admire him -- I remember Pete Rose one time I asked him how he was concentrating during his 44-game hitting streak cause I think he had gotten separated from his wife, his dad had died in the middle of it, and he had a couple other things happen and he told me that you have to use -- which I told Ramos -- you've got to use your job or the game as a sanctuary away from your problems because when you get home the same problems are there that you left, which is difficult to do sometimes, but in reality, whatever problems you leave when you leave home are there when you get home. And I really admired Pete for that and I've taken that to heart when I had problems."

Ramos currently leads all major league catchers with at least 100 at-bats with a .347 average and .914 OPS. He has four homers and 20 RBI in 33 games with just 16 strikeouts. 

Not only is he thriving amid the pressure of a contract year, but he's probably making himself a lot of money down the road, whether that be in Washington or elsewhere.

"In terms of it being a contract year, that's something that I don't control. I don't focus on that," Ramos explained. "I've told myself and I've gotten some good advice about just dealing with the day-to-day activities. Just worry about today. That's what I've done. Just keep working to have a good day today and not worry about anything else that I can't control. So far it's been working for me. That's what I intend to do is just keep working and let everything take care of itself."