Nationals 2-1 over Cubs: Ryan Zimmerman's RBI single in the eighth beats Cubs

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs were tied up at 1-1 with two down in the eighth when the Cubs decided to walk Adam LaRoche to bring Ryan Zimmerman up with the go-ahead run at second and Zim made them pay. 2-1 Nationals final.

• Davey Johnson's Mind Games Top 5:

5. Quick Recap: Washington Nationals' leadoff man Denard Span doubled to center in Nationals Park in the first at bat of the bottom of the first against Chicago Cubs' starter Jake Arrieta, and two outs later, following a groundout to second by Anthony Rendon and a sharp, one-hop liner to third by Jayson Werth, Span scored to make it 1-0 Nats early in the series finale in the nation's capital.

Jordan Zimmermann made that 1-0 lead hold up through six, shutting the Cubs out and allowing just seven hits and one walk to continue a strong stretch of starts that saw him dominate the competition in June.

Chicago tied it up in the top of the seventh, however, with the Cubs loading the bases with one out against Drew Storen and getting a sac fly to center from Starlin Castro. 1-1.

Cubs' right-hander Pedro Strop gave up a line drive to right by Denard Span in the first at bat of the Nats' eighth and Span hustled round to second ahead of the throw in. The play was challenged, but upheld. Anthony Rendon lined out to right for out no.1. Jayson Werth K'd swinging at a 2-2 pitch in the dirt. Adam LaRoche got the intentionals to bring Ryan Zimmerman to the plate and Zimmerman singled to left to put the Nationals up. 2-1.

2-1 Nats final.

4. Zimmermann's Month: Jordan Zimmermann was able to successfully put a rough month of May behind him and in June, the 28-year-old right-hander was absolutely dominant. In six starts for the Nats, the Auburndale, Wisconsin-born, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point-educated starter was (3-2) with a 1.43 ERA, a 1.95 FIP, six walks (1.23 BB/9) and 41 Ks (8.39 K/9) in 44 IP, over which he held opposing hitters to a combined .189/.221/.250 line, down from a .342/.376/.477 line in the previous month.

"I'm just locating really well right now. Nothing really has changed. I'm just locating really well and the slider is really good..." -Jordan Zimmermann on recent run of success on the mound

Last time out against Colorado, Zimmermann held the Rockies to seven hits and two runs in six innings of work in a 7-3 Nationals' win in the nation's capital. The win in that start left the Nats' '07 2nd Round pick (6-4) on the year, with a 2.95 ERA, a 2.74 FIP, 19 walks (1.65 BB/9) and 91 Ks (7.90 K/9) in 103 ⅔ IP.

"I thought I pitched pretty well," Zimmermann said after the outing, in spite of the fact that he admittedly didn't have his best stuff. "Really only had two pitches, fastball and slider the whole game, and I didn't throw any curveballs and a few changeups. Mixed them up pretty good."

Zimmermann said he stayed away from his curve against the Rockies because he didn't have a good feel for it.

"Just didn't have a very good feel in the bullpen," he explained, "and I'd throw it in-between innings and didn't have the feel the whole game, so I didn't want to make mistake with that when I didn't have a very good feel."

As for his recent run of success, Zimmermann told reporters that it's all about command, especially of his fastball and slider.

"I'm just locating really well right now. Nothing really has changed. I'm just locating really well and the slider is really good and when I have those two things working together I can usually string some pretty good starts together. June was a good month and hopefully it carries over into July."

This afternoon in the nation's capital, in his first July start, Zimmermann was taking on a Chicago team he'd faced six times in his career, going just (1-4) and posting a 5.59 ERA, with seven walks (1.70 BB/9) and 38 Ks (9.24 K/9) in 37 IP, over which Cubs' hitters put up a combined .279/.310/.565 line against him.

Zimmermann's first start of July began with a fly to right...

1st: Cubs' left fielder Ryan Sweeney sent a high fly to right that Jayson Werth caught for out no.1. Justin Ruggiano lined a 1-1 fastball to center for a one-out double not even Denard Span could reach. First baseman Anthony Rizzo stepped in with a runner in scoring position and worked the count full, taking a close 2-2 fastball before lining out to right. Starlin Castro got a two-out RBI opportunity, but popped out to second to end a scoreless 20-pitch first by the Nats' right-handed starter.

2nd: Luis Valbuena skied one out to center. Nate Schierholtz went down chasing a high 1-2 heater. John Baker fell behind 1-2, but worked the count full and walked with two down. Darwin Barney stepped in with two out and sent a broken-bat single through short. Jake Arrieta grounded out to short, however, ending a 21-pitch second that left Zimmermann at 41 total after two.

3rd: Ryan Sweeney sent a one-hopper to second that backed Anthony Rendon up and Rendon's throw was wide, pulling Adam LaRoche off the bag. LaRoche appeared to make a swiping tag, but first base ump Paul Schrieber missed the call and appealed to home plate ump Mike Everitt. Everitt said safe, but a review got the call correct. One out. Justin Ruggiano was 2 for 2 today after he lined a 2-2 slider to left for a one-out single. Anthony Rizzo sent an 0-2 fastball to center for the second straight single. Starlin Castro stepped in with two on and one out and grounded into a force at second for out no.2. With runners on the corners, Luis Valbuena grounded out to first where Adam LaRoche made a harder-than-it-looked backhand stab. 20-pitch frame. 61 total after three.

4th: Nate Schierholtz popped out to foul territory off first. John Baker singled to center with one down for the Cubs' fifth hit. Darwin Barney fell behind 0-2 quickly and sent a fly ball to center that Denard Span caught for out no.2. Jake Arrieta came up with two down and went down swinging at an 0-2 slider. 16-pitch frame. 77 total after four.

5th: Ryan Sweeney lined a 93 mph 1-1 fastball to center for a leadoff single in the Cubs' fifth. Zimmermann threw a 94 mph 1-2 fastball by Justin Ruggiano for out no.1. Anthony Rizzo K'd swinging at an 0-2 fastball for out no.2 and Zimmermann's 4th strikeout. Starlin Castro grounded into a force at second to end a 16-pitch frame that left the Nats' starter at 93 total after five.

6th: Luis Valbuena sent a fly ball out to Denard Span for out no.1 of the sixth. Nate Schierholtz chased a 94 mph 1-2 fastball up high. John Baker stepped up with two out and sent a low liner to left. Darwin Barney grounded into a force at second though, and Zimmermann was through six scoreless on 12 pitches, leaving him at 105 total on the day.

Jordan Zimmermann's Line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 Ks, 105 P, 76 S, 6/5 GO/FO.

3. Workin' On My Spitter: Davey Johnson was a subtle manager/manipulator at times, planting seeds in the media that seemed at first innocuous, but served a purpose.

"I wasn't accusing him of throwing a spitter, but I said, I'd like to see a better wipe. I didn't realize he was that fidgety..." -Davey Johnson on Jake Arrieta

Take for example his comments after a May 18, 2012 game against the Baltimore Orioles, a team he played for and managed long before he took over on the bench in the nation's capital.

O's right-hander Jake Arrieta held the Nationals to six hits and one run in a 2-1 win in the series opener of a three-game set with the Nats, but knowing that Washington would see the starter again in another series in June, Johnson took the opportunity to sneak a jab in at the pitcher in his post game press conference.

"[Arrieta] made some good pitches," Johnson said, "At certain times we took fastballs right there. He had a little slider and decent curve ball. I complained early on because he'd go to his mouth two or three times and I didn't see a real good wipe. I wasn't accusing him of throwing a spitter, but I said, I'd like to see a better wipe. I didn't realize he was that fidgety, he's got all kinds of moves out there..."

It was a throwaway line at the end of his meeting with reporters, but the Orioles' starter caught it, as was evident when he took to Twitter, or the Tweeter as Johnson referred to it, two days later:

The initial comment barely garnered any attention, but Arrieta heard it, or someone told him, but somehow, the word got back to him and annoyed/humored him enough that he responded to Johnson's snipe. Did it have any effect? Not really. Arrieta limited the Nationals to five hits and one earned run when he faced them again a month later.

Those 2012 outings were the best of the 28-year-old right-hander's career against the Nationals, but he didn't earn a win in either. In five career outings against Washington before today's, Arrieta was (0-1) with 6.84 ERA, 12 walks (4.32 BB/9) and 24 Ks (8.64 K/9) in 25 IP over which Nats' hitters put up a combined .303/.391/.455 line against him.

"The approach was really good today...but we've got a tough customer tomorrow though, so we'll have to have another good game plan going in." -Matt Williams on facing Jake Arrieta

The Cubs' starter took the mound in D.C. today in the midst of a strong season, however, with a (5-1) record through 11 starts. In 64 ⅔ IP, the righty put up a 1.81 ERA and a 1.97 FIP with 16 walks (2.23 BB/9) and 74 Ks (10.30 K/9).

Pleased as current Nats' skipper Matt Williams was with his team's performance in their 13-0 win over the Cubs on Saturday afternoon, he cautioned after the game  that they would be facing a tough pitcher in the series finale.

Arrieta, who threw six hitless in each of his previous two outings before this afternoon's, lost his no-hit bid early today when Denard Span doubled to center on a line drive that Justin Ruggiano misjudged and flat missed. A sharp grounder to second by Anthony Rendon moved Span to third and a one-hop liner off Jayson Werth's bat brought Span in for a 1-0 lead after one.

Ian Desmond singled off Arrieta with one down in the second, but Wilson Ramos grounded into an inning-ending 4-3 DP. The 14-pitch second left the Cubs' right-hander at 31 pitches total after two.

Arrieta retired the Nationals in order in a quick, 12-pitch third that left him at 43 pitches overall.

Ryan Zimmerman drew a four-pitch, two-out walk in the Nats' fourth, but Bryce Harper K'd swinging to end a 13-pitch frame. 56 total after four.

Nats' shortstop Ian Desmond (2 for 2) and Wilson Ramos (10-game hit streak) hit back-to-back singles to start the Nationals' fifth. Jordan Zimmermann tried to bunt but missed two attempts to fall behind 0-2 and K'd trying to bunt with two strikes. Denard Span's fly to center allowed Desmond to take third, but both runners were stranded when Anthony Rendon grounded to second to end the fifth. 15-pitch inning, 71 total by Arrieta.

Jayson Werth walked to start the Nationals' sixth, but three quick outs later he was stranded at second.

Arrieta was hit for in the top of the seventh.

Jake Arrieta's Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 Ks, 90 P, 57 S, 9/1 GO/FO.

2. Opposite Gap: Matt Williams told reporters after the Nationals crushed Cubs' pitching yesterday that they came into the game with a good strategy at the plate.

"Everybody swung the bat really well," he said after the Nationals scored 13 runs on 19 hits. "The gameplan going in knowing these two pitchers was to stay on the baseball to the opposite gap, and they did a nice job of that today, everybody, so really good team effort."

He knew it wouldn't be as easy today, however, facing a pitcher in Jake Arrieta, who was (4-0) in June with a 0.92 ERA and a .157/.191/.194 line last month and no-hitters through six innings in each of his last two outings.

"We can't expect to have days like this every day," Williams said, "but that ability is there. So that tells us that we can stay in a game, we can come back, we can add on, all of those things we can do. So on any given day we'll rely on all of those to win a game. The approach was really good today and I think we have guys who have the capability of doing that. Happy about that, but we've got a tough customer tomorrow though, so we'll have to have another good game plan going in."

Whatever the gameplan was today it got the Nationals just a run in six innings against Arrieta...

1. The Wrap-Up: Drew Storen took over on the mound for the Nationals in the seventh and got himself into a jam. Chris Coghlan sent a sharp grounder back over the mound for a leadoff single. Ryan Sweeney bunted the runner over/gave up an out, but a walk to Justin Ruggiano and single to center by Anthony Rizzo followed as the Cubs loaded the bases with one down. Starlin Castro stepped up with the tying run 90 ft from home. A sac fly to center was deep enough to score Coghlan from third, just ahead of a strong throw by Denard Span. 1-1 game.

Jerry Blevins came on with two on and two out and Luis Valbuena at the plate and struck the Cubs' left-handed hitting infielder out to end the inning.

Brian Schlitter took the mound for the Cubs in the seventh. Wilson Ramos lined a single to left with two down, leaving him 2 for 3 today and 11 for 29 since returning from the DL. Jerry Hairston grounded into an inning-ending DP in the next at bat, however, so it was still tied at 1-1 after seven.

Tyler Clippard took the mound in the top of the eighth and gave up a line drive single to center by Nate Schierholtz, who stole second with John Baker at the plate. Baker walked to put two on with no one out. Darwin Barney bunted both runners over/gave up an out. Welington Castillo made a pinch hit appearance with the go-ahead runner at third base, and K'd looking at a 2-2 cutter outside. Ryan Sweeney was 1 for 3 on the day when he stepped up in the next at bat, and 1 for 4 after he grounded out to second to end the inning. Still 1-1.

Cubs' right-hander Pedro Strop gave up a line drive to right by Denard Span in the first at bat of the Nats' eighth and Span hustled round to second ahead of the throw in. The play was challenged, but upheld. Anthony Rendon lined out to right for out no.1. Jayson Werth K'd swinging at a 2-2 pitch in the dirt. Adam LaRoche got the intentionals to bring Ryan Zimmerman to the plate and Zimmerman lined to left to put the Nationals up. 2-1.

Pitch it, Soriano! Pitch it, Soriano! Strike'em out, Soriano! Strike'em out, Soriano!! Rafael Soriano came out looking for save no.21 of 2014... and retired the Cubs in order. Ballgame.

Work's done. Untuck that jersey, son!!!

Nationals now 48-39

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