Jordan Zimmermann gave up seven hits, two walks and two runs in four innings of work tonight in Nationals Park. He threw 88 pitches before he was lifted from the series finale with the Atlanta Braves. Freddie Freeman's RBI single in the first gave the visitors a 1-0 lead after one and Braves' starter Kris Medlen hit a bases-loaded sac fly in the fourth to make it a 2-0 lead, but after Jayson Werth's two-run home run tied it up at 2-2 after four, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson went to his pen. Zimmermann was asked after what ended up a 6-3 Nationals' loss if he was shocked he was taken out after only four innings.
"No, not shocked," the Nationals' '07 2nd Round pick said after losing for the third time in four starts in the nation's capital, where he'd gone (14-0) going over a year's worth of outings in the Nats' home before suffering a loss to LA on July 21st. "I didn't have a clean inning out of any of the four," Zimmermann said. "Every inning, the leadoff guy seemed like he was on... I had good stuff, I just fell behind or let them back in the count when I had them 0-2."
"I think he was having so problems with his, you know, the usual problem a little tightness back in here," Davey Johnson said, pointing to his neck and referring to the stiffness that led to Zimmermann's decision to skip the All-Star Game after being selected for the first time in his career this season. Johnson was asked if Zimmermann needed to have doctors take another look at his neck. "No, he said it wasn't too bad," Johnson said, "so I think he's -- with the off day he's going to get an extra day, so that might help him."
Zimmermann had said previously he thought he was past the issues. "I thought he was too," Johnson said, "Hopefully it's not near as bad as it was before."
"That's news to me," Zimmermann responded when Johnson's comments were brought up in the pitcher's post game interview. "I felt fine. I had really, really good stuff today. I just either was 0-2 and I let them back in the count or I fell behind 2-0, 3-0 and I had to battle. Get it back to full count, they foul a few pitches off. Every pitch was a constant battle tonight." Zimmermann received no decision when the bullpen faltered in a three-run eighth by the Braves.
The Nationals fell 15.5 games behind in the NL East and are now 9.0 games behind in the Wild Card Race. Neither the Nats' starter or the Nationals' manager, however, was willing to concede that the 2013 campaign was a lost cause. "I don't think it's over," Zimmermann said, "We've just got to play one game at a time and not worry about what other people are doing and just take care of our business and at the end of the season, we'll see what happens."
"You just keep battling," Davey Johnson said when asked how he and his team would approach things going forward. "Just one game can turn you around and get some momentum going. It can happen. Things can change quick."
They changed quickly tonight. Justin Upton, who was 3 for 4 tonight, 8 for 12 in the series and 24 for 50 in his last 12 games after the win, homered to make it 3-2 Braves in the top of the seventh, taking Fernando Abad deep, but the Nationals tied it up on an RBI groundout by Ian Desmond in the bottom of the inning. Ryan Mattheus finished up the seventh, then came back for the eighth. He gave up a two-out double by Andrelton Simmons and a walk before Davey Johnson turned to Ian Krol against Jason Heyward, but Heyward hit an 0-2 curve to right to make it 4-3 Atlanta. Justin Upton's third hit of the night was a two-run double in the next at bat that made it 6-3 Braves.
"Was Tyler Clippard available?" Davey Johnson was asked.
"I was going to go to [Clippard] if the [Krol] walked Heyward," Johnson said. "I wasn't going to bring [Clippard] in to face Heyward. Heyward's hitting about .600 off him." [ed. note - ".625 actually."] "If [Krol] walked Heyward, I would have brought [Clippard] in a tie game to finish that inning and go the next inning, but [Krol] didn't get the left-hander out, so I'm not going to bring [Clippard] in one run down." Abad and Krol, who had stabilized the Nationals' bullpen when they came up, ended up costing the team in their sixth straight loss at home to the Braves this season.
"It was really good and now when we're leaning on them it's having a few blips on the radar screen," Johnson said. "[Krol] is real young, still learning. He has a tendency to fly open and he just leaves the twirly bird down the middle. That's what he did. But he's been awfully good. Just made an inexperienced, bad mistake. Two strikes, you can't throw it down the middle."
The Nationals loaded the bases against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth, but Wilson Ramos lined out to right to end the third straight loss to the Braves. "They outplayed us. It's pure and simple," Johnson admitted. "They just outplayed us." He wasn't giving up hope yet though. "There's still a lot of games left, shoot. We've got a lot of ground to make up, but you never know what can happen in this game. If nothing else, get our pride back by playing better."