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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."

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Baker acknowledges Nats need to come through in clutch situations

Baker acknowledges Nats need to come through in clutch situations

Coming through in two-out situations isn’t supposed to be an easy task, but the Nationals are making it look especially difficult of late.

The most recent example of those struggles came in Friday night’s 5-3 loss to the Padres, in which the Nats’ lineup couldn’t get the big knock against 23-year-old right hander Luis Perdomo, a rookie starter who came into the game sporting a 7.36 ERA.

“That’s been our nemesis,” manager Dusty Baker said. “People ask me, you know, what do we need? We need some timely, two-out base hits. Not home runs.”

Indeed, when the Nats score big, it’s usually because they powered their way to get there. They entered Friday tied for first in the National League with 132 homers through 96 games. And even against the Padres, two of Washongton's three runs on the night came via solo shots from Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy.

So the issue hasn’t been overall scoring, per se. The issue has been scoring in clutch situations without relying on the long ball. Against the Perdomo and the Padres, the Nats went 1-for-5 with two outs and runners in scoring position, including an 0-for-4 stretch after the first inning. That won’t help their season average in that category (.221), which ranked 21st in the majors prior to the game.

So it’s no mystery to Baker about what has to be fixed.

“At this stage of the game, almost two-thirds of the season gone, we gotta make some changes,” the skipper said of the Nats’ two-out approach. “We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, and it’s getting frustrating on the guys and frustrating on fans and frustrating to us, too.”

When asked about the Nats' recent offensive woes, Bryce Harper chalked it up to the typical up-and-down nature of the long season. 

"I don't think we need to change much at all,” said Harper, who’s 6-for-20 in those situations on the year. "I think we're a great team. I think we're swinging the bats well.

“Sometimes you line out and get out. Sometimes you hit right into shifts. Sometimes you strikeout, sometimes you walk. It's part of the game.”

Perhaps it is just part of the game. But it is also hard to ignore that the Nats have gone 6-for-41 with runners in scoring position over their last five games, four of them losses. 

But Baker, ever the optimist, believes it won't take long before his team turns it around. 

“I just urge everybody, don’t panic," he said. "Just let us play and we’ll come out of this.”

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Big inning dooms Roark as Nats fall to Padres

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USA TODAY Sports

Big inning dooms Roark as Nats fall to Padres

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-3 loss the San Diego Padres on Friday night at Nationals Park: 

How it happened: Perhaps it’s too early to call it a trend, but it sure seems like Nats have had a tough time with west coast teams this season. And after Friday’s loss to the Padres, Washington fell to 3-8 against the NL West.

They can thank Matt Kemp for that.

The Padres’ veteran right fielder got the best of Tanner Roark on this night, tagging him for two home runs — a solo shot in the first inning and a three-run tater in the fifth — which accounted for four of the five runs the Nats’ starter yielded. 

On the flip side, Washington couldn’t solve San Diego rookie Luis Perdomo, who shut down the home team over seven frames after allowing two quick runs in the first. 

The Nats threatened after Perdomo exited, with Daniel Murphy hitting his 19th home run of the season to cut the deficit to 5-3 in the eighth. But they couldn't complete the rally, clinching their fourth loss in the last five games. 

What it means: The Nats fall to 57-40, and pending the result of the Mets-Marlins game, could fall to see their division lead shrink to 3 1/2 games. 

Offense struggles versus Padres’ rookie: To this point in the season, there hasn’t been much about Padres 23-year-old rookie Luis Perdomo that screams “ace”. But after the first inning, the Nats made him look like one as they couldn’t muster much against a guy who came into the game sporting a 7.36 ERA. As a whole, the offense mustered three runs, with two of them coming on home runs. The Nats might be one of the best power-hitting teams in the game, but these are the type of games they need to win when the ball isn't leaving the yard. 

Kemp solves Roark: It’s surprising when the Nats’ 29-year-old right hander isn’t anything but steady, but it appeared the Padres had his number on this night — well, at least Kemp did. Were it not for the two big swings on the night, Roark probably would have pitched deeper into the game. Instead, he could only get through five innings, marking his shortest outing since June 16.  

Felipe Rivero: After a rough early part of June, Rivero has quietly rebounded. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last 10 appearances, striking out 15 over 17 1/3 innings. With so much talk about how the Nats may want to upgrade their bullpen at the trade deadline, it’s easy to forget that the group they have isn’t half bad.

Up next: Washington will look to bounce back Saturday night as it sends Max Scherzer (10-6, 2.94 ERA) to the hill to oppose ex-Nat Edwin Jackson (1-1, 4.76 ERA).

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Solis to join Zimmerman in Potomac, Ross' rehab stint begins Sunday

Solis to join Zimmerman in Potomac, Ross' rehab stint begins Sunday

Nationals reliever Sammy Solis will pitch at Class-A Potomac on Friday night for his rehab assignment, Dusty Baker told reporters Friday afternoon. Barring a setback, the 27-year-old left hander, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list on July 17 with right knee soreness, is expected to return to the team Sunday. 

Solis will join fellow DL-mate Ryan Zimmerman, who notched two hits Thursday night in his first rehab game back from a left rib cage strain. The veteran first baseman will stay in Potomac for the next few games, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll rejoin the Nats in time for the start of their upcoming road trip.

“[Zimmerman] played seven innings last night at first base,” Baker said. “He’s going to DH today. And then he’ll play the first game of a doubleheader tomorrow at first base. Then he’ll be ready to return to leave with us to go to Cleveland.”

Rounding out the injury updates, Baker said that right hander Joe Ross (shoulder inflammation) will make his first rehab start Sunday afternoon, but did not reveal where he would pitch. In the meantime, the club will again need to find someone to start in Ross' place during Sunday's series finale against the San Diego Padres. They've leaned on rookie pair of Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez the last two turns through the rotation, so either of them appear to be a likely option. Baker, however, wasn't ready to show his cards just yet. 

“We will let you know Sunday,” the manager said.