Jordan Zimmermann's role in the whole Cole Hamels vs Bryce Harper HBP drama was reduced to a sidenote in the end with the right-hander claiming in a post game interview that his retaliatory HBP on Philadelphia's left-hander was unintentional. The Nats' '07 2nd Round pick didn't receive a fine or any punishment from Major League Baseball, while Hamels was suspended for five days for later admitting that he'd hit Harper on purpose.
"'[Hamels] was bunting, and I’m going to take an out when I can get an out,'" the Nationals' 25-year-old right-hander told reporters including the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore after the game, "'I was trying to go away, and I cut a fastball really, really bad and hit him in the knee.'" Before Hamels admitted that he'd hit Harper intentionally to teach the 19-year-old outfielder some sort of lesson, Nats' manager Davey Johnson said he didn't think either pitcher had done what they did on purpose. "I never think it's on purpose," the 69-year-old skipper said. "I mean, when you throw it down around the kneecaps when a guy's bunting... but, uh, that's just the game of baseball."
Phillies' skipper Charlie Manuel saw things a little differently, and didn't think Major League Baseball needed to step in and suspend Hamels, explaining in an MLB Network Radio interview with Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette that he thought things had been settled properly by the players on the field. "I felt like when [Hamels] got hit, when they retaliated and hit him... I mean [Zimmermann] said that he wasn't throwing at him, I don't believe that. So, usually, baseball-wise, that should have been a wash. The teams should have been even there. I mean, that's kind of how I looked at it. He hit their guy and then they hit him. And you're like, it should have been left there, but all of a sudden, with all of the hoopla about it, every thing gets blown out big and they make a lot out of it."
The Washington Post's Mr. Kilgore made a convincing argument why he believed Zimmermann's HBP on Hamels was unintentional, noting that the pitcher, who's received little in the way of run support this season, wasn't likely to exact revenge when it put the tying run into scoring position (Pete Orr singled in the AB before Hamels stepped in) or when Hamels was trying to give up an out by bunting. Most importantly, however, he noted that hitting the opposing pitcher sort of defeats the purpose of sending the sort of message a retaliatory strike was designed to send:
"You do not retaliate for one of your players getting hit by hitting the pitcher. The whole point is to get Shane Victorino or Hunter Pence or some other veteran Phillie to walk up to Hamels in the dugout or on the team plane and say, "Hey, Cole, knock it off, so I stop getting hit." When baseball players talk about 'policing themselves,' that’s what they mean."
Lost in all the talk about the HBP on Harper, the young Nats' outfielder stealing home and the retaliatory strike, however, was the fact that Zimmermann wasn't at his best on the hill Sunday night. Through the first three innings the right-hander was strong, allowing only the Pete Orr single and holding the Phillies scoreless while throwing just 30 pitches. A leadoff walk to Shane Victorino started the fourth, however, and a Hunter Pence two-run HR followed. It was just the fourth walk and second home run Zimmermann had allowed in 36.0 innings pitched in 2012 to that point. Former National Laynce Nix followed with a single on a first-pitch fastball in the at bat after Pence's HR, then later scored on the third of four hits the Nats' starter surrendered in what ended up being a 29-pitch inning.
With the Nats down 3-1, Zimmermann issued another leadoff walk in the fifth, but he erased that runner on a double play grounder and finished up a quick eight-pitch inning. In the sixth, Zimmermann allowed only a single, (the one on which Jayson Werth broke his wrist), but that was it. The Phillies, however, knocked the Nats' right-hander out in the seventh, after he issued a third leadoff walk (to the opposing pitcher), another free pass to Jimmy Rollins (Zimmermann's 4th of the game, a season high) and a base-loading single by Juan Pierre (on a bunt which should have been played by third baseman Steve Lombardozzi). Reliever Craig Stammen saved Zimmermann from any more earned runs on the night when he retired the next three batters and (with help from Harper and Rick Ankiel's arms) left the bases loaded, but the right-hander ended up taking his second straight loss when the Nationals couldn't come back against the Phillies.
"I thought he threw a very strong game," Davey Johnson told reporters after the game, "He was throwing the ball really good, finished up the sixth and then came back out for the seventh and just got a little wild. That's not his nature." It hasn't been Zimmermann's nature thus far this season. After walking two, striking out 16 and allowing just 17 hits, one home run and five runs, four earned, in four starts and 27.0 IP in April, Zimmermann's K'd just seven and given up 15 hits, one home run, seven runs total, six earned and five walks in his last two outings and 12.0 IP.
It's hard to say Zimmermann's struggling when he enters tonight's game with a 2.29 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 5.26 K/9 and 1.60 BB/9 over his first six starts and 39.1 IP, but the right-hander will look to return to form, after back-to-back losses, when he faces a Cincinnati Reds team tonight that he held to one run on three hits in 7.0 IP in his second start of the year back on April 13th in D.C.