With Washington up 4-0 after one, and a runner on first after a leadoff single in the second, Nationals' right-hander Jordan Zimmermann dropped a front door 1-2 curve on St. Louis Cardinals' third baseman David Freese that appeared to be a strike. Brooks Baseball's Strikezone plots (pitch no.4) agreed and the Nats' pitcher and catcher Kurt Suzuki thought they had strike three on the Cards' infielder, but home plate umpire Wally Bell called it a ball. Two pitches later Zimmermann went back to the curve and served up a hittable bender that Freese launched to center for a two-run HR that cut the Nationals' lead in half. It's hard to point to one pitch in what ended up a 10-9 game as a turning point in a seesaw battle, but a Cardinals' team that had been outscored 22-1 up to that point in the series in the nation's capital suddenly had hope that they were in a game that had started with them down 4-0 after one inning of play.
Zimmermann got more support in the second when Adam LaRoche hit a two-out, two-run home run to make it 6-2, but the Cards added two more on a Matt Holliday home run in the third and by the time the 26-year-old Nats' starter was done for the day in the fourth, St. Louis had rallied to take an 8-6 lead. The 3.2 inning outing was Zimmermann's shortest of the season, the eight runs allowed were the most he had given up in his career and the two home runs matched the total he'd surrendered over 26.2 IP in the entire month of August. After the game, Zimmermann told reporters he took the blame for this loss.
"I felt the way I normally feel," the '07 2nd Round pick told CSNWashington.com's Kelli Johnson afterwards, "I mean, just 25 pitches in the first inning and the [Nats'] offense did a great job. You've got tip your cap to those guys. [They] give you six runs and do all you can to keep the team in the game and you can't hold it down, so I mean, this loss is totally my fault."
Nationals' manager Davey Johnson, however, dismissed any notion that the pitcher's struggles were tied to recent well-publicized shoulder issues the right-hander was dealing with. "He was having a little problem with the mound," Johnson said, "He was flying a little bit open and he left the ball up, couldn't get it down. Even his sliders were up. I felt like he was going to make some adjustments and he never could make any adjustments."
In his first 21 starts and 134.1 IP, Zimmermann had a 2.28 ERA, but over his last six outings and 30.1 IP, the right-hander's posted a 6.23 ERA as a pitcher who reliable went six innings in each of his first 21 starts of 2012 has failed to do so in five of those six games. Zimmermann's manager didn't seem concerned about the recent struggles or potential fatigue. "He's strong," Johnson told reporters after the game, "But it was just one of those days. Sometimes when he has an extra day rest he's too strong, kind of flies open, jumps at the hitter [and] you keep thinking he's going to make some adjustments and start getting it down."
Zimmermann passed the highest IP total of his career yesterday, but Johnson said he wasn't concerned that the pitcher might be tired as the Nationals head into the final month of the season. Before a reporter could even finish a question about the pitcher potentially being fatigued Davey Johnson jumped in. "No," he said, he wasn't worried, "Not at all. He's fine. The ball is coming out of his hand good. He's actually said the shoulder problem he had earlier is getting better and better and he's almost back to feeling great."
With Stephen Strasburg's shutdown on the horizon and the stretch run ahead, the Nationals are going to need Zimmermann at his best. He clearly wasn't yesterday. Even after the rough outing, however, the right-hander has put together a strong 2012 season with a 3.01 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 33 walks (1.80 K/9) and 112 Ks (6.67 K/9) in 27 starts and 164.2 IP on the year in his first full-season back from Tommy John surgery. Zimmermann's just one of many Nationals going somewhere this September they've never been before. How he adjusts and moves forward could go a long way in determining how far the Nats go this year.