Jordan Zimmermann was up to 101 pitches following a 14-pitch seventh last Wednesday night at home in the nation's capital in his outing against Detroit. The Nats' 26-year-old right-hander had held the Tigers to one run on seven hits up to that point, but manager Davey Johnson made the decision to go to his bullpen. "I was entertaining sending him back out there," Johnson told reporters afterwards, "but I figured that one took a lot out of him. Extra day's rest, you guys told me he's not usually himself after too much rest. But a great ballgame."
Johnson talked about how even after after a two-out single in the seventh, with the top of the Tigers' lineup due up and Zimmerman approaching 100 pitches, he hadn't considered going to his bullpen. "I just had total confidence in him," Johnson said, "I think he hit 100 pitches. And I think he can go 110 pitches, 115 pitches. I mean, I didn't see any drop-off in his stuff in the seventh inning. He's pitched so well, I didn't want to bring in anybody in the inning. He's earned that right. So, no I was confident."
"I've gone through it with him since 2011," Johnson said, talking about how he'd watched Zimmermann develop. "He's starting to grow to where pitch count doesn't mean anything to him. Before, I think, he was locked in when he got to 90 pitches around that area, but he's gone way past that." Though he was comfortable with Zimmermann going to 110-15 pitches, he didn't go back to him for the eighth inning. The Nationals had a two-run lead at that point, and after Tyler Clippard locked down the eighth and Rafael Soriano earned his 11th save in the ninth, the Nationals had a 3-1 win over the defending American League Champs.
In his previous start a week earlier, Johnson had lifted Zimmermann after 8.0 scoreless and 107 pitches against Atlanta. For the ninth, the Nationals' manager turned to Soriano, who earned his eighth save of the season that night in the Nats' 2-0 win over the Braves.
Zimmermann had no problem with the Nats' skipper's decision, as he explained when reporters wondered if he'd lobbied for the opportunity to throw the ninth for what would have been his second-straight complete game shutout. "No. No," Zimmermann said, "I mean, I knew some guys needed to get some work in and, you know, [Soriano] hadn't pitched in a few days and I knew he wanted to get him out there and I'm happy with that."
Last night in the nation's capital, however, Davey Johnson's decision to lift Gio Gonzalez after 7.0 strong, scoreless innings of work in which the lefty allowed just two hits and threw just 86 pitches, didn't work out so well. The Nationals took a 1-0 lead over Chicago into the bottom of the seventh, when Johnson brought pinch hitter Chad Tracy in to hit for Gonzalez, attempting to add to his team's slim lead. The Nationals went down in order that inning.
Drew Storen took over on the mound in the eighth and surrendered the game-tying run on a two-out RBI single by Starlin Castro.. Rafael Soriano gave up back-to-back singles in the ninth to put two runners on before an errant thrown by Nats' catcher Kurt Suzuki on a one-out double steal attempt allowed the go-ahead to cross. 2-1 Cubs. And that's how it ended.
"I'm always gonna try to add on," Johnson told reporters, including MASN's Dan Kolko, after the loss, which cost Washington the series with Chicago. "Even though he had a fairly low pitch count, my bullpen was rested. I'm trying to add on. It's just the way I manage. Obviously, I'd have been better off in hindsight, but I have all the confidence in the world in my bullpen. They just didn't do it. Chalk it up to me."
"Just the way I manage," the Washington Post's James Wagner quoted Johnson explaining his decision further, "Chalk it up to me. You don’t like it? Chalk it up to me. Didn’t work out."
Gio Gonzalez had no interest in second-guessing his manager. "I feel like we have a great bullpen that can definitely help all the time," the left-hander said afterwards. Strong as he felt he said he trusted his bullpen to get it done. "I trust my bullpen 100%," Gonzalez said, "I trust our offense 100%. I don't question Davey's job. He's a great manager. He knows what he's doing. It was, again, one of those tough decisions. You've just got to learn to roll with the punches."