A scouting report on the Washington Nationals heading into Saturday night's game against the San Diego Padres and veteran left-hander Eric Stults would surely have noted the defending NL East Champs' .194/.268/.299 line vs LHP, which had them dead last in the National League in each of the three team stats. The Nats' offense produced like one that struggles against left-handed pitching, getting no-hit through five before Kurt Suzuki singled to center in the first at bat of the Nationals' sixth.
Washington managed just four hits and one run against San Diego on Saturday night, and they lost 2-1 in spite of a strong start on the part of right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, who surrendered seven hits and two runs, one earned, in eight innings pitched over which he threw just 85 pitches, 60 of them strikes. Stults threw 89 pitches, 62 of them for strikes over eight innings. Zimmermann induced nine ground balls outs and struck out six of the 30 batters he faced. Stults struck out five and got 11 groundouts from the 28 Nats' batters he plowed through.
The Padres' manager was impressed with Zimmermann's work on the mound in Petco Park.
"He was efficient," Bud Black said, "both pitchers were really efficient. You look at the ball-to-strike ratio [for] both guys. Zimmermann was outstanding in that regard, so was 'Stultsy'. I thought today, more than what we've seen just in video in [Zimmermann's] past games, the use of the changeup came into play. He's got a nice, tight slider, no doubt about it, but I thought the use of the changeup, especially early in the count to our guys, was something that we didn't project going into this game and he used it to his advantage."
Zimmermann told reporters it was an adjustment he made in-game in reaction to the Padres trying to jump on his fastball early in the count. "I'm going to throw strikes and get ahead," Zimmerman said, "and I noticed the first couple innings they were bouncing on my first pitch fastball, so I mixed up some offspeed and got them to roll over and I think I had like a five or six-pitch inning mixed in there so that's going to help the pitch count."
"He pitched very well," Black continued, "You know, this guy's a bulldog. You look at his internal numbers, [they] are outstanding. Look at his record, his ERA, this guy has come into his own after his Tommy John surgery. He's a guy, there's no doubt about it, he's one of the best pitchers in the Nationals League. And to beat him in a low-scoring, tight game. Kudos to our guys."
Nats' skipper Davey Johnson was impressed with both starters, but bothered by the fact that his hitters didn't take advantage of what the scouting reports told them about Stults. "We're not hitting very smart," Johnson said bluntly, "I mean, we're swinging at his changeups around the knees or in the dirt. We're not making him throw the ball over -- you know, it's a sign of some inexperienced hitters at times. And you've got to be more patient than that against a guy like this. And that's... we're still growing. We're still growing as an offense. And some young guys just need to be a little more patient. Don't try to hit a pitcher's pitch. And that's been some of the problems all year offensively."
"[Stults] didn't have a very good fastball," Johnson said, "But you don't look for the junk because he's going to throw the junk out of the zone and have you chasing it. Make him throw it over, make him get it up, and we, all night long we're swinging at... we'll learn."
Johnson had nothing but good things to say about his own starter.
"[Zimmermann] pitched an unbelievable game," the manager said, "He pitched an unbelievable game. He swung the bat better than most of the guys in the lineup and it's a waste we couldn't pull that one out, it's a tough loss."
In addition to what he did on the mound, Zimmermann was 1 for 1 with two sac bunts at the plate. "Zim pitched his heart out, did a great job offensively, got a couple guys over and swung the bat, wanted to give him every chance to win, we just couldn't get it done." The Nationals have taken two of the first three from the Padres. They can win the series tomorrow afternoon in the finale of the four-game set in San Diego.