Jordan Zimmermann had a chance to put the Washington Nationals up 2-0 and give them a commanding lead after two games on the road in St. Louis in the NLDS. All the 26-year-old right-hander had to do was beat a team that he'd been unable to beat five starts into his four-year MLB career.
Before last night's game, the '07 2nd Round pick had an (0-2) record against St. Louis with a 9.12 ERA, 6 BB (2.10 BB/9), 21 Ks (7.36 K/9), a 1.71 WHIP and .345 BAA in five starts and 25.2 IP against the Cardinals in his career. After yesterday's game, as St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Joe Strauss pointed out shortly after Zimmermann had left the mound, the right-hander had a, "... 2.38 ERA against teams other than STL this season," and an, "... 11.08 ERA in 3 starts against Cards."
The Cardinals were under pressure last night, having dropped the first matchup in the five-game series at home in a Game One they led most of the way, and as noted by MLB's Stat of the Day Twitter account, St. Louis has a fairly good track record when it comes to the situation they found themselves in yesterday:
The @cardinals are 9-1 in Division Series Game 2's.— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) October 9, 2012
As Nats' skipper Davey Johnson pointed out after Zimmermann's outing, which lasted all of three innings and saw him throw 65 pitches, 51 of them fastballs, the right-hander failed to adjust his game plan and he got hit hard. "He didn't really make a lot adjustments out there," Johnson told reporters, "He kind of stayed one way, hard away against a good fastball hitting club and you've got to use both sides of the plate. And he didn't really use his slider much early on. He started going to it a little later. But that's just a little inexperience. He's got a very live fastball. But his gameplan basically was stay away and pound the zone. And they're a good fastball-hitting club."
Of the Cardinals' seven hits off Zimmermann, all of which came in the second and third after a relatively quick, 13-pitch, 1-2-3 bottom of the first, four came on fastballs, three on breaking balls.
"You have to pitch," Davey Johnson said, "you can't go out there and just throw against this ballclub. This is a good fastball-hitting club. You have to mix in your pitches."
"They have a great lineup and it's tough," Zimmermann told reporters after the game, "You get a few guys out and then you look up and you've got [Carlos] Beltran coming up, [David] Freese and it just never stops. They've got a good lineup, you just have to make your pitches and I wasn't able to do that tonight." Neither were the Nationals relievers, who gave up six hits and seven runs after the Nats' starter left the game. But Zimmermann took the blame for the way the things ended.
"It's definitely tough," the pride of Auburndale, Wisconsin said afterwards, "I wanted to go out there and go deep in the game and try to get out of here with two wins and I didn't do my part. And I feel like if the starter doesn't go out and do their part it kind of snowballs with the relievers some times and that's kind of what happened today."
"Hitters are smart and they see patterns," Davey Johnson explained. "Especially with all this technology. They look at every start and see how you pitch and young pitchers and even veteran pitchers have to make adjustments. I think our guys have come a long way. I really like the progress they've made in a very short time to be where they're at."
"By and large we're still a very young ballclub," the Nats' 69-year-old skipper continued, "And this experience, it's a quick study. I mean this is the time you see what happens against good clubs if you don't make adjustments, don't change your patterns. You can't stay one way. Like [Zimmermann], I don't think he came in and he usually uses away and comes in and he felt more he wanted to just go away."
"You just can't go after a club and just throw hard," Johnson said, "You've got to pitch. The difference [is] when you really mature as a pitcher, you use all your pitches and it's easier and obviously tonight [Zimmermann] had a good live fastball and good movement, but you can't stay one way."
The Nationals took one on the road, and took a beating in game two, but the Nationals' manager didn't appear overly concerned about leaving St. Louis with a split. "We're fine," Johnson said, "Ready to go home." One of the few players on the Nats' roster with playoff experience wasn't ready to hit the panic button either. Jayson Werth, who signed in D.C. because he believed the Nationals were building toward what they're doing right now (and because they offered him more money than anyone else), told reporters that the Nats had accomplished what they needed to in the first two games of the NLDS.
"You work all season to get home field advantage and we've got it," Werth said, "We're going home with the series tied and get a chance to play in front of our fans and go back home and that's what it's all about. We did our job while we were here, split the series and we'll head home."
The Nationals and Cardinals play game three at home in D.C. at 1:00 pm EDT tomorrow. Edwin Jackson too will have to make some adjustments. Last time out against the Cardinals' the veteran right-hander who helped St. Louis to a World Series win in 2011, gave up six hits and nine runs in just 1.1 IP. In his only other start of the year against St. Louis, however, he held the Cards to a run (unearned) on four hits in 8.0 strong in which he struck out 10. That start was in the nation's capital.