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Two bad pitches do in Zimmermann

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Two bad pitches do in Zimmermann

MIAMI -- He threw 98 pitches for the afternoon, most of them quality pitches that held the Marlins' potent lineup in check. Jordan Zimmermann, though, couldn't get past those two wayward sliders he served up on a tee to Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton in the bottom of the sixth inning.

"I mean, two pitches is what it comes down to for me," Zimmermann said. "Two bad pitches, and it cost me the game."

Yes, the Nationals did have other opportunities to avoid a 5-3, Memorial Day loss to Miami. They were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, the lone hit coming on Ryan Zimmerman's two-run double in the fifth off Carlos Zambrano. They went 0-for-8 against the Marlins bullpen. And they let Jose Reyes hustle his way to an insurance run in the seventh.

But those two sliders from Zimmermann in the sixth probably defined this game, and they certainly stuck in everyone's craw well after the fact.

"I mean, those cost him," manager Davey Johnson said. "I thought he threw the ball good, just made two mistakes to the wrong guys."

Forgive Johnson and anyone else in the Nationals' clubhouse for being a bit cranky at the end of the day. After playing on Sunday Night Baseball in Atlanta, then arriving in Miami at 3 a.m., they arrived at garish Marlins Park seven hours later and were tasked with taking the field against a tough division opponent.

The Nationals were careful not to blame their performance on the lack of sleep.

"I think we battled," left fielder Steve Lombardozzi said. "We played a great game. It's tough to come back after so late last night. But I thought we battled and played real well."

Besides, while the rest of his teammates were boarding a charter flight in Atlanta at 1 a.m., Zimmermann was sound asleep in his Miami hotel room, having been sent down early to ensure he was well-rested for his 10th start of the season.

The right-hander looked sharp early on, throwing a healthy 35 of 43 pitches for strikes through the third inning. And though he served up a solo homer to Logan Morrison in the fourth, a blast that ignited the Marlins' much-ridiculed, home-run sculpture into action, he wasn't upset with the inside fastball he threw in that situation.

Besides, Zimmermann was still beaming from the home run he clubbed one inning earlier, the first of his professional career. Even if he wasn't sure at first the ball had cleared the left-field fence and landed in the trendy Clevelander bar beyond the wall.

"It's hard to see," he said. "There's so many bright objects out there."

The Nationals were leading 3-1 when Zimmermann took the mound for the sixth, feeling good about their chances to win their fourth straight and maintain their 2 12-game lead in the NL East. But he immediately got into trouble, leaving that 2-2 slider to Ramirez up and over the plate, resulting in a leadoff single.

Moments later, Zimmermann tried to sneak that 3-1 slider past Stanton. The notion of using the breaking ball there wasn't a problem, but the execution of the pitch was.

"I can throw anything in any situation," Zimmermann said. "I just have to get it down a little more. That was right over the middle, and he's one of those guys that's trying to pull everything and, you know, he hits mistakes."

The ball soared to left, crashing off a lime green wall some 412 feet from the plate. It was Stanton's 12th homer of the season, his 11th this month.

"I mean, you can't throw a hanging a slider to him," Johnson said. "Anybody, really. He pitched him good the whole game. To get really beat on that pitch, that's tough. He was totally in control until that inning, still had a low pitch count and throwing the heck out of the ball. You just can't make mistakes with that part of the lineup."

The Nationals still had a chance to rally and seize control of the game. But a potential seventh-inning rally fizzled when Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen turned to his bullpen and watched that unit come up big.

Left-hander Dan Jennings was summoned to face Bryce Harper with two on and nobody out. Remembering a couple of encounters the two had during the Arizona Fall League, Jennings fed the 19-year-old a steady of stream of sliders, most of them well out of the zone. On his 3-2 offering, he got Harper to loft a flyball down the left-field line, then watched as Chris Coghlan came charging over to make a nice catch for the first out.

Right-hander Edward Mujica then entered to face Zimmerman (perhaps the Nationals' hottest hitter at the moment) and fired up a first-pitch fastball over the heart of the plate. Zimmerman couldn't turn down a cookie like that, so he swung and hoped he would hit the ball hard someplace. He did, except he hit it right at Ramirez, who started an inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play.

"It's frustrating when you get a pitch you can hit and you're ready for it, and you just hit it right at somebody," the Nationals third baseman said.

That was the last shot the Nationals would get. Mujica retired the side in the eighth, and erratic closer Heath Bell did the same in the ninth.

Thus ended the Nationals' winning streak and thus sent them back to their downtown Miami hotel for a much-needed night of rest. They'll return Tuesday evening for their latest in a string of battles with tough division opponents, hoping once again to maintain their spot atop the NL East.

"I'll tell you what, I found out why they're in first place," Zambrano said. "Those kids can hit, and they have good pitching. They're good."

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How Dusty Baker's holy water helped Revere come through vs. Padres

How Dusty Baker's holy water helped Revere come through vs. Padres

Now 61 games into the 2016 season - and 60 since he returned from the disabled list - Nationals center fielder Ben Revere is still searching for the swing that allowed him to hit .300 or better for three straight seasons. He has yet to find consistency and feel like himself despite months having passed since he rehabbed his oblique injury.

And at this point, he's open to ideas. What he's tried so far hasn't worked, so why not give something unorthodox a shot?

Before Saturday's game in which he landed an RBI double, walked and scored a run, Revere got some unusual help from manager Dusty Baker.

"Dusty gave me holy water today. He kind of blessed me," Revere said. "My grandpa, he’s a retired preacher so he probably would’ve done the same thing or said I should’ve done it when we got back from the injury."

Whatever works. Speaking of Revere's grandfather, both him and Revere's father were in town to watch Ben play this weekend. After Friday night's game in which Revere went 0-for-5, Baker spoke to both men about Revere's struggles.

"I talked to his dad and grandfather after the game," Baker said. "They weren't exactly happy, but they thanked me for sticking with their son. They know Ben can hit and I know Ben can hit. I tried to trade for him when I was with Cincinnati."

Revere - who is still hitting just .216 this season - wonders if Dusty will now tell Revere's dad and grandfather about the holy water, seeing how it worked.

"He’s probably going to talk to them again and tell him what he did," Revere said.

"They know I’ve kind of been down on myself and struggling a little bit but they gave me some motivation and said, ‘Keep swinging, son. It can come now or come in August. At some point, you’ll be hot and help this team really be hot and get to the playoffs.'"

[RELATED: Nats reveal exactly how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple]

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Nats reveal how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple

Nats reveal how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple

Often times with professional athletes, you can only find out how truly bad an injury or a predicament is once the game they had to perservere through is over. In hockey, it's after teams are eliminated from the playoffs that you learn who had the broken fingers and torn ligaments in their knee.

That is sometimes the case after good things happen, as well. Players do not like using their ailments as excuses before or during the competition. But after the event is over? Sure, what do you want to know?

After Saturday night's walkoff win over the San Diego Padres, we finally found out the true story behind Stephen Drew's 'flu-like symptoms' and how terribly debilitating his illness actually was. 

Well, we found out some of the specifics. Some are not for a family audience.

"I don't want to say it on TV, but it's been ugly," Drew said. "Anywhere from high fever to everything else, you name it. It's been crazy."

Fair enough. No complaints there. More important was what Drew was able to accomplish in the win, his first appearance in a game since last Sunday. Drew sent the Nats home victorious with a walkoff RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth against Padres reliever Kevin Quackenbush. It was a line drive that fell just inches short of a homer.

Maybe if Drew hadn't been weakened by the flu, it would have cleared the fence. Still, not bad for a guy who had barely swung a bat in a week.

"I ain't done nothing [in six days]. Today is the first time," Drew said. "I tried to hit some [Friday] but just felt really, really lightheaded and kind of dizzy. That's what's left over. I just gotta keep pumping fluids down right now."

Drew had essentially been quarantined by the Nationals for days after he contracted the flu from teammate Anthony Rendon. They gave him IVs and then sent him home, keeping his name on the lineup card as a decoy. He wasn't in the dugout, but the Nats did their best to not let their opponents know he was unavailable.

"He was home not eating, couldn't hold any food. I think he lost 7-8 pounds," manager Dusty Baker said. 

Though still ailing, Drew turned a corner on Saturday and felt good enough to stick around for the full game. As the night went on, he realized he could play.

"I was able to hit in a cage. It wasn't great, but it's better than nothing," Drew said. "Right before the inning I kind of knew what was going on. I told [hitting coach Rick] Schu, he ran over there and I guess told [Baker] again just to let him know."

Drew took the first pitch from Quackenbush for a ball and the second for a strike. He then fouled off two pitches before launching a 77 mile per hour curveball high up the wall in right-center field. 

It was an excellent swing and one that felt familiar to Drew, who has been a plus off the bench for the Nats all season.

"Honestly, I was still in the mindset that I had. It's been a good feeling. Really not trying to do too much, just trying to get a good pitch and get my A-swing off," he said.

Drew has been part of a Nationals bench that has turned into a real strength this season. Drew himself his now 6-for-20 (.300) with three homers and six RBI in 20 pinch-hit at-bats. 

This one was different, of course, and him coming through while under the weather was a big lift for his teammates.

“Sometimes you get your number called even when you’re sick. You come out and make a performance like that, be able to pinch-hit and get a triple," starter Max Scherzer said. 

"That’s huge. That just shows you the resiliency of everybody in this clubhouse, to be able to go out there no matter what and compete and do something to help the ballclub."

"I’ve played days when I’m sick and those are the days when I get three hits. You don’t think, you just go out there and play," center fielder Ben Revere said. 

"I was kind of telling Anthony, I’m like, ‘Get me sick so I can get some hits.’ Usually I play well when I’m feeling down and blue. But it’s tough. It’s tough. I knew the pitcher had a good curveball but I had a feeling if he threw it to Drew, he’s going to do some damage and sure enough he did."

Drew appears to be back to form after a wild week. But he still felt the need to pepper in some knock-on-woods as he spoke after the win.

"I'm getting better. It's been a long process and frustrating, but I'm hopefully at the end of this thing and I'll go from there," he said.

[RELATED: Nats name Giolito as Sunday starter vs. Padres]

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Stephen Drew walk-off lifts Nationals to win over Padres

Stephen Drew walk-off lifts Nationals to win over Padres

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 3-2 walkoff win over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Success off the bench as a pinch-hitter can be fleeting and some, no matter how good they were as everyday players, never find the secret.

Not Stephen Drew. Even six days off due to flu-like symptoms could not cool the Nats' bench hero down, as he walked off the San Diego Padres on Saturday night with an RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth.

The final blow came against Kevin Quackenbush, who was the final pitcher summoned from a Padres staff that had otherwise baffled the Nats through 8 2/3 innings. Anthony Rendon scored the game-winning run after leading off the inning with a single to left field.

The Nats got their other two runs on a Daniel Murphy sacrifice fly in the third inning and a Ben Revere RBI double in the fifth. Max Scherzer did his part with seven innings and just two runs allowed. The Nats' bullpen picked up from there with a scoreless eighth by Shawn Kelley and ninth by Jonathan Papelbon. Both relievers allowed extra base hits, but left the mound unscathed.

What it means: With the win, the Nats evened up their season series against the Padres at 3-3 and snapped a three-game losing streak to San Diego. They stand 58-40 on the season.

MORE NATIONALS: GIOLITO GETS NOD SUNDAY VS. PADRES

Scherzer keeps rolling: Scherzer's recent dominance continued on Saturday night as the Nats ace went seven strong innings of two-run ball with 10 strikeouts and zero walks. It didn't start out well for Scherzer, who allowed a two-run homer to Ryan Schimpf in the second, but he recovered after that and finished his outing by retiring 14 of the last 15 batters he faced. It was the 13th time in 21 starts this season that he's gone at least seven innings and the eighth time he's recorded double-digit strikeouts. 

Over his last five starts, Scherzer has allowed just four earned runs across 34 1/3 innings. And since May 6, he holds a 2.19 ERA (24 ER, 98.2 IP) in 14 outings. Scherzer had a 4.60 ERA when he took the mound on May 11, but has since pared that down to in impressive 2.92.

The homer to Schimpf was Scherzer's biggest mistake and it was, of course, the continuation of a year-long trend. Scherzer has now given up 22 on the season, tied for fourth-most of all MLB pitchers. That's despite the fact he had only given up one in his previous four starts entering Saturday night.

Revere bounces back: Revere's frustrating 2016 season had reached one of its lowest points on Friday night, when he went 0-for-5 in a loss to the Padres. It was so bad that Nats manager Dusty Baker spoke with Revere's father and grandfather afterwards. They thanked the skipper for being patient with the Nats outfielder, despite him batting nearly 100 points lower than the .300 average he had carried in each of the previous three seasons. Baker expressed sympathy for Revere, but noted he had been back for over a third of the season. Patience was running out. Baker said "we need him badly."

What Revere did to respond on Saturday night is exactly what Baker had in mind. The embattled leadoff man walked in his second at-bat in the third inning and later scored on a Murphy sacrifice fly. Revere set that up by moving from first to third on a singly by Jayson Werth. Revere then doubled home Danny Espinosa in the top of the fifth to tied the game at 2-2. Before Saturday night, Revere had just three hits in his last nine games, a stretch of 29 at-bats.

Harper keeps scuffling: It was another long night for the reigning MVP, who went hitless in four at-bats and left four men on base. His worst moment came in the bottom of the fifth when the Padres opted to walk Murphy with two outs to put two men on to face Harper. Harper promptly popped out to right field to end the rally. Harper is now just 5-for-39 (.128) with 10 strikeouts in his last 11 games.

Up next: The Nats and Padres close their series with a 1:35 p.m. start on Sunday afternoon. Rookie Lucas Giolito (0-1, 4.70) will make his third career MLB start opposite San Diego lefty Christrian Friedrich (4-6, 4.55).