Things were really rough for San Francisco Giants' starter Tim Hudson down the stretch. In five September starts, he was (0-4) with an 8.72 ERA, 4.01 FIP and a .354/.400/.531 line against in 70 ⅓ IP.
His last win in the regular season came back on August 22nd in the nation's capital, when the 39-year-old, 16-year veteran limited the Washington Nationals to five hits and two runs, one earned in 5 ⅓ IP in a 10-3 win.
In two starts against the Nats this season, Hudson was (2-0) with a 0.73 ERA, three walks and eight Ks in 12 ⅓ IP over which he held Nats' hitters to a combined .239/.286/.304 line.
So how do the Nationals approach the one-time Atlanta Braves' starter, who's given the franchise trouble over the course of his career?
"I think for us it's important to be patient with him," Nats' skipper Matt Williams told reporters this morning.
"For Tim, if the ball is down, he throws strikes down, and then he induces a lot of swings at balls down. The ball sinks. His fastball sinks, then he throws split, throws slider down in the zone. So for us the key for today's game would be to elevate his ball in the strike zone. Be patient, use the big part of the field and get good pitches to hit. But his success will come when he's throwing the ball down in the strike zone, out of it. And he induces a lot of grounders, a lot swings and misses down, so it's patience and it's a middle-of-the-diamond approach if we're going to have success against him."
Adam LaRoche, who is 8 for 33 with four doubles and two walks career vs Hudson, said he thinks it's always a key to get to the right-hander early.
"Well, you're going to get something to hit," he said this morning. "You better get to him early. Throughout his career, he's known for once he gets past the third and fourth inning and settles in, he gets to be really tough. So if you can get to him in the first two or three innings, ideally, it's huge. Not to say he can't be beat after that, but once he gets rolling, he's good, really good."
"He's got it figured out," LaRoche continued. "He knows when to make adjustments. He knows how to read hitters really well. He's just had a knack for that. But, again, he pounds the zone typically, so be ready to hit early."
The Nationals counter with Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2. ZImmermann finished off his sixth major league season with a streak of eight straight wins over 11 starts in which Washington was (11-0).
In 74 ⅔ IP over that stretch, the 28-year-old right-hander put up a 1.81 ERA and a .205/.235/.289 line, capping his 2014 campaign off with a no-hitter against the Miami Marlins.
"Early on in the season he was having a little bit of trouble with his slider," Williams said this afternoon when asked about Zimmermann's second-half run.
"We talked about it a lot. It was not where he wanted to throw it. I think that has gotten better. The ability to throw the changeup has gotten better. And I think that for him, he's an aggressive guy. He's going to go after hitters, that's the way he pitches and if he can get ahead, he does really well. And so, over the last month and half, that's what he's done really well. He's gotten to that point where he's getting ahead and he's able to use all of his other pitches too."
LaRoche said he and his teammates have "a ton" of confidence in Zimmermann and the rest of the starters.
"He's a bulldog out there. No emotion. And is obviously really confident in his stuff and his pitches. So he's fun to play behind. Works pretty quick and really pounds the zone, and, you know, 'here it is, hit it.' I love that mentality."
Zimmermann faced the Giants once this season, back on August 23rd, giving up seven hits and two earned runs in eight innings of a 6-2 win. He faces San Francisco for the second time this season at 5:30 PM this afternoon.
"Zimmermann's got great stuff," Giants' skipper Bruce Bochy said this afternoon.
"He's had a great year, he's coming off a tremendous game and you're facing somebody like that, just like [Stephen] Strasburg, you hopefully look forward to competing and find a way to get a pitch to handle and don't miss it."
• Here's the Nationals' lineup for Game 2 of the NLDS: