"I feel like I haven't changed anything all year, or changed anything from last year," then-(7-1), 26-year-old Washington Nationals' starter Jordan Zimmermann told reporters after the Nats' 6-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers this past Tuesday night in Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. Zimmermann was asked what was different this time around that could account for his early-season success. "It's just the way the ball is bouncing right now," Zimmermann said, "And I'm pitching to contact, throwing strikes and I feel if I keep that up I'm going to have a lot more quality starts."
If there was one difference, Zimmermann said it was the offense the Nationals had generated in his starts. "It's just, getting a lot more run support this year," the right-hander said, "which is always good."
So, of course, Zimmerman threw eight innings on 85 pitches Saturday night in San Diego, and lost 2-1 to the Padres on a pick attempt gone wrong that moved the eventual winning run into scoring position after he and his teammates managed just four hits and one run off left-hander Eric Stults over eight innings in the second-longest start of the Padres' 33-year-old, seven-year veteran's major league career.
"It's baseball," Zimmermann said after the one-run loss in the third game of four with the Padres. "We're not going to hit every night and tonight was one of those nights. Their guy threw great and we just couldn't quite get to him."
The Padres scored the second of the two runs they needed to beat the Nationals in the bottom of the eighth when Alexi Amarista botched a sac bunt attempt, but reached first safely, took second on Zimmermann's errant throw by first on the aforementioned pick attempt and scored on a line drive single to center by Everth Cabrera. The other run of the two the Padres scored came in the bottom of the second when 26-year-old San Diego slugger Yonder Alonso hit his fifth home run of the year and just the third Zimmermann's surrendered in 66.2 IP this season into the Petco Porch in right field.
"I just made two mistakes," Zimmermann told reporters after the loss, using a variation of the cliche which was actually true in this case.
"The home run to Alonso, it was a good pitch. It was up. You can't really complain about that. But the throwing error by me, down the line is what cost us. I mean, if I don't make that, we're still out there playing." The Nationals' starter said he just pulled the throw to first as he attempted to check the runner and it got by the Gold Glove of Adam LaRoche and into foul territory. When he was throwing the ball toward home, Zimmermann was at the top of his game again tonight. He finished eight innings on 85 pitches, induced nine ground ball outs and struck out six of the 30 batters he faced, retiring ten in a row at one point.
The Padres' hitters were aggressive all night, which Zimmermann liked. "That's perfect for me," the pitch-to-contact advocate said, "I'm going to throw strikes and get ahead 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."
Zimmermann was being modest, or just honestly didn't know, but he actually had a four-pitch inning in the fourth, and was at 41 pitches after four in Petco Park. He followed that up with an eleven-pitch fifth, an eight-pitch sixth, thirteen-pitch seventh and twelve-pitch eighth that had him up to 85 after eight. Did he think Davey Johnson would have sent him back out for bottom of the ninth if the Nationals had tied it?
"I was hoping so," Zimmermann said, "I mean, I was at 85 pitches and I definitely had plenty left in the tank."
The Nationals' starter's errant throw was the second of the night by a pitcher. Eric Stults committed the first in the third inning. The left-hander walked Kurt Suzuki with one down. The Nationals decided to have Zimmermann bunt, but when he rolled one back to the mound, Stults threw to first and right through covering second baseman Jedd Gyorko's legs. The error moved both Nats' runners into scoring position, but Denard Span lined into an odd 1-3 DP in the next AB in one of several instances in which the Nationals squandered opportunities.
Span sent a low liner back to the mound that bounced off Eric Stults' leg right to first base and first baseman Yonder Alonso, who looked Suzuki back at third and stepped on first, then ran over to tag out the Nationals' catcher when he realized Zimmermann had already arrived at third behind his catcher. Zimmermann took off from second when he saw the ball bounce off Stults, but didn't realize it had gone right to Alonso. "I was taking off and I look up," Zimmermann said, "And I didn't really know what happened till the following inning and they said it was off his foot right to the first baseman, so that's kind of the way our luck's been going."