Zimmermann falters late

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Zimmermann falters late

Through his first five starts this season, Jordan Zimmermann has looked like one of the very best pitchers in baseball, like he could be the ace of almost any staff in the league. But in Tuesday nights 5-1 loss to Arizona, Zimmermann finally showed some signs of imperfection, specifically in a rough seventh inning in which he gave up more earned runs than he had allowed in an entire game all season.

Zimmermann started the game as well as he had in his previous four, a stable stretch of five straight games allowing just one earned run through at least six innings pitched. But an aggressive approach throughout the game from the Diamondbacks finally paid off late.

Cody Ransom led off the seventh with a single to left off a slider Zimmermann threw after two fastballs. John McDonald then hit the next pitch, another single to left. Trevor Cahill then advanced the two into scoring position with a near-perfect bunt as Zimmermann had to dive to field the ball and throw him out. He intentionally walked the next batter then walked to the bullpen to watch two runs credited to him allowed by his replacement Ryan Mattheus.

I knew they swung early in the count and were pretty aggressive, I just had to make quality pitches earlier in the count and let them get themselves out, he said.

I was able to do that for the most part in the beginning of the game and later in the game I just missed on a few.

Zimmermann pitched in 80-degree heat with high humidity - his first start of the year in hot weather and acknowledged the conditions after the game. Arizona was also much more aggressive early in counts, but that is something Zimmermann believes should play in his favor.

I would rather have an aggressive team. If I can make my pitch I know they are going to put it in play and if they put it in play theyre not going to get a base hit every single time. Early outs are what Im looking for.

Zimmermanns statistics so far support his claim, he has only struck out 22 batters in 33.1 innings pitched but holds a .84 WHIP. Despite a two-run inning and eight hits allowed against Arizona he still has a 1.89 ERA a .207 batting average against. And on top of all that he has walked just three batters and allowed only one home run.

Overall it was another solid outing that should have earned him a win, but lately the Nationals lineup hasnt been able to produce much of anything. After six they were still without a run, not that Zimmermann is used to great run support, but pitching so well without any help can be wear old.

The pitching has been outstanding. Zimmermann was strong, he got a little tired late and the ball started coming up, but you cant put it straight on the pitching staff, manager Davey Johnson said.

We have to start scoring some runs. You cant just be that fine all the time.

The Nationals rotation is probably used to carrying the team at this point, Zimmermanns 1.89 ERA is actually above the staffs total average of 1.79. Johnson after the game was frustrated with the lack of scoring. Not scoring puts more pressure on the pitching staff and mistakes get magnified.

The pitchers know they gotta be pretty good, I think the last five or so games weve average two runs or something, he said. Thats just not gonna cut it.

Cardinals manager Matheny on pitching to Bryce Harper

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Cardinals manager Matheny on pitching to Bryce Harper

Atop the majors with a 23.4 walk percentage, Bryce Harper is being pitched around more often than anyone this season. Both that approach from opposing teams and his struggles with not getting pitches to hit have been well-documented.

The St. Louis Cardinals, however, have been an outlier this season when it comes to how they've handled Harper. He's only walked twice in 25 plate appearances against them. That's an eight percent walk rate, about a third of his season average. He's struck out in 32 percent of his PAs against the Cardinals (8 SO in 25 PA) - much higher than his 18 percent season average - and is batting just .130 through six games vs. the Cards. Only the Mets have held him to a lower OPS than the .591 mark he has against St. Louis.

The Cardinals have been pitching to Harper and it hasn't hurt them all that much. He has three hits in six games and two are homers, but both were solo shots.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny spoke about the team's approach to Harper this weekend.

"Typically, a solo home run shouldn't beat you," Matheny said. "We do pitch him carefully. We have in the past and we'll continue to. A lot of it has to do with how he's swinging at the time and what the matchups look like and who's hitting around him. All that goes into the decision."

"We've had a little success against him, not that that's always going to continue because he's a good hitter, but when we had him at home we were pitching him tough and we were able to get outs. When you're able to do that, you try to stick with the approach that's working."

A 13-year MLB veteran before he went into coaching, Matheny was a catcher during the days of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and then when Barry Bonds was setting records with the San Francisco Giants.

Matheny knows there comes a time when hitters can get so hot there is just no point in pitching to them.

"Who's a guy we want to stay away from, is there somebody in the lineup you don't want to beat you and is there enough depth to where you can't do that?… Bonds had good players around him, but when he was hot there were just times where he just wasn't going to [allowed to] beat you. I could see Harper being viewed the same way," Matheny said.

"There were times in Barry Bonds' career was the best player on the planet and you couldn't get him out… There were times when Sammy was the hottest hitter in baseball and you just weren't going to let him beat you. I don't care who was hitting behind him. This kid, obviously he can be included in those kinds of conversations."

Ben Standig contributed to this report

Nats' Belisle feels ready, but not quite done with rehab games

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Nats' Belisle feels ready, but not quite done with rehab games

Fresh off three rehab appearances with the Single-A Potomac Nationals, the next stop for Nats reliever Matt Belisle is likely to be Double-A Harrisburg. Belisle expects to pitch two innings there on Tuesday before the team can determine his next step.

Belisle pitched two innings on Saturday night with the P-Nats and allowed two earned runs on four hits with three strikeouts. He feels like he could return now if needed, but it's not up to him.

"I'm ready," the 35-year-old said. "I feel great with the calf. I'm doing everything I can. The therapist and everybody have said I'm good to go. I'm ready to rock."

Belisle has been on the disabled list since April 27 with a right calf strain. The two runs he gave up on Saturday are the only ones he's allowed in four innings on his rehab assigment. He allowed six hits and struck out five in those games.

Belisle made seven appearances with the Nationals before injuring himself fielding a groundball against the Phillies on April 27. He says he feels good both physically and in terms of his performance on the mound.

"I never took off. I was pitching off the mound and doing side sessions quite a bit. I guess when you get up you lose a little bit of feel, but it's not like coming in and starting all over again," he explained. 

"I've done this a few times before. How you play catch is a big and important factor. The more action you get, the better… You need to step in ready to fire and go."

Strasburg, Wacha face off in Nats-Cardinals series finale

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Strasburg, Wacha face off in Nats-Cardinals series finale

Nats (29-21) vs. Cardinals (26-24) at Nationals Park

The Nats and Cardinals close out a four-game series on Sunday at Nationals Park with two big name pitchers set to square off. For the Nats, it will be Stephen Strasburg (8-0, 2.79). For the Cardinals, it will be Michael Wacha (2-5, 5.04), who is not off to the greatest start this season. 

The Cardinals have taken two straight games after the Nats won the series opener on Thursday. The Nationals aim for the split without Jayson Werth, who is sitting the series finale. Michael Taylor is in to play center field with Ben Revere in left. Taylor is batting in Werth's second spot in the lineup.

First pitch: 1:35 p.m.
TV: CBS-9, MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, XM 183
Starting pitchers: Nats - Stephen Strasburg vs. Cardinals - Michael Wacha

NATS

LF Ben Revere
CF Michael Taylor
RF Bryce Harper
2B Daniel Murphy
1B Ryan Zimmerman
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Stephen Strasburg

CARDINALS

3B Matt Carpenter
SS Greg Garcia
LF Matt Holliday
1B Matt Adams
CF Randal Grichuk
RF Brandon Moss
2B Jedd Gyorko
C Eric Fryer
RHP Michael Wacha

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