Comeback comes up short, Nats fall in extras to Marlins

Comeback comes up short, Nats fall in extras to Marlins
May 28, 2014, 11:00 pm
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GAME IN A NUTSHELL: In the wake of Tuesday's rainout, Matt Williams decided to alter his pitching rotation, bypassing rookie Blake Treinen and sticking with Jordan Zimmermann on normal rest. The move made sense, especially considering Zimmermann's past struggles when pitching on extra rest, but then the right-hander took the mound and once again didn't look himself.

Zimmermann lasted only five innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on eight hits and continuing a disturbing downward trend by the usually reliable starter. He departed with the Nationals trailing 4-0, but then Marlins right-hander Henderson Alvarez was pulled himself after five innings — in this case, due to elbow stiffness — and the entire script flipped.

The Nationals stormed back against the Miami bullpen, scoring three runs off Chris Hatcher in the sixth (with Nate McLouth's 2-run double the big blow) and then tying the game in the seventh when Wilson Ramos crushed his first homer of the season off A.J. Ramos (no relation). Presented a golden opportunity to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth, though, the Nats loaded the bases with nobody out and managed not to score. They put the winning run on third in the bottom of the ninth and again failed to score.

All those missed opportunities figured to come back to haunt the Nationals, and sure enough, they did. Jerry Blevins and Aaron Barrett combined to allow four runs in the top of the 10th, all but killing any chance of another dramatic comeback. The Nats thus lost for the sixth time in seven games and fell to two games below the .500 mark.

HITTING LOWLIGHT: After scratching and clawing their way back to tie the game, the Nationals gave themselves as good an opportunity to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth as you'll ever get. Nate McLouth and Scott Hairston drew walks, and Denard Span beat out a bunt to load the bases with nobody out and the heart of the order up against lefty Mike Dunn. So what happened? Anthony Rendon, despite battling through a 10-pitch at-bat, struck out. Jayson Werth, who entered 4-for-5 with five walks and a 2.500 OPS in 10 career plate appearances vs. Dunn, popped out. And Adam LaRoche, despite fouling off three straight two-strike pitches, grounded out to first to end the inning in agonizing fashion. The Nats tonight went a stunning 1-for-7 with the bases loaded.

PITCHING LOWLIGHT: What's going on with Zimmermann? Three weeks ago, he sported a 2.97 ERA. In four starts since, he has allowed 16 runs and 33 hits in 22 2/3 innings, leaving his season ERA at a whopping 4.07. It's the first time the right-hander has allowed four or more runs in four consecutive starts since his rookie season in 2009. Zimmermann's velocity has been right on target: His fastball is averaging 93.7 mph, almost identical to his average from the last three years. His command, on the other hand, hasn't been as sharp as its been in the past. As a result, he's giving up a whole lot more hits than he has in the past. Opponents are now hitting .308 vs. Zimmermann this season, compared to .246 from 2011-13. Cause for concern, or just a blip?

KEY STAT: Over his last 15 games, McLouth is hitting .333 with a .419 on-base percentage, raising his season batting average from .078 to .182. He has also stolen four bases in that time.

UP NEXT: After a day off, the Nationals open a weekend interleague series against the franchise that used to play in D.C. Too bad the Rangers won't be wearing throwback Senators uniforms. It's Stephen Strasburg vs. one-time Nats spring training invitee Colby Lewis in Friday's 7:05 p.m. opener.