5. Zimmermann vs the Jays: Jordan Zimmermann took the mound this afternoon in the nation's capital with a streak of seven straight starts in which he hadn't suffered a loss. Washington's 29-year-old right-hander was (3-0) over that stretch with the Nationals 5-2 in those outings, over which Zimmermann put up a 2.35 ERA, nine walks (1.76 BB/9) and 34 Ks (6.65 K/9) in 46 IP, with a .260/.295/.324 line against.
Last time out, in a start in Chicago's Wrigley Field, Zimmermann held the Cubs to one run on six hits in seven innings of work in which he walked three and struck out five. The one run he allowed came on a leadoff home run by Dexter Fowler in the first, but Zimmermann held the home team off the board through the rest of his time on the mound.
"Early on it wasn't really there," Zimmermann told reporters, "and then after the first couple of innings I started getting a feel and slider was good and I was able to break the curveball out late and get a few strikeouts when I needed to."
That start left Zimmermann (4-2) on the year with a 3.26 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 14 walks (2.08 BB/9) and 41 Ks (6.08 K/9) in 60 ⅔ IP so far in 2015, over which he's held opposing hitters to a combined .269/.315/.338 line.
At home in Nationals Park, Zimmermann was (2-1) in five starts before today's with a 2.51 ERA, a 3.06 FIP, eight walks (2.23 BB/9), 19 Ks (5.29 K/9) and a .226/.275/.287 line against in 32 ⅓ innings pitched.
His first start against the Toronto Blue Jays since 2009 began with backwards K from Jose Reyes, who took a 1-2 curve for a called strike three. Josh Donaldson, who came into the series after a red-hot May in which he put up a .306/.373/.649 line with eight doubles and 10 HRs in 29 games and 127 PAs, went the other way with a 2-2 slider, lining a single to right-center. Donaldson took second on a passed ball with Jose Bautista at the plate, but he was stranded there after Bautista grounded out and Justin Smoak K'd swinging over a 1-2 bender to end a 19-pitch frame.
Ezequiel Carrera hit a two-out, broken-bat single to right in the Blue Jays' second, but Ryan Goins popped up to the infield to end a quick, eight-pitch second that left Zimmermann at 27 pitches overall after two.
Zimmermann plowed through the Blue Jays in the third, retiring the side in order in an 11-pitch inning. 38 total after three scoreless.
Jose Bautista took a first-pitch slider to left by a diving Yunel Escobar at third for a leadoff single in the fourth, and two outs later, Josh Thole singled to left on a 93 mph first-pitch fastball, but both runners were stranded when Ezequiel Carrera grounded out to first to end a 16-pitch fourth for Zimmermann, who was up to 54 pitches.
Three quick outs in an eight-pitch fifth left Zimmermann at 62 pitches. He took the mound in the top of the sixth with a 2-0 lead after scoring one of two runs in the home-half of the fifth inning and retired the side in order, striking Justin Smoak out with a 3-2 slider to end a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 frame that pushed him up to 74 pitches.
Chris Colabello lined a leadoff single to center on a 2-2 slider from Zimmermann, and Jays' backstop Josh Thole collected his second hit of the game in the next at bat, sending a screamer through the right side on a 93 mph 1-2 fastball. Ezequiel Carerra bunted both runners over/gave up an out. Edwin Encarnacion stepped in as a pinch hitter with two runners in scoring position, but Zimmerman pitched around him, loading the bases in front of pinch hitter Russell Martin, who sent a grounder to second to start an inning-ending 4-6-3. 21-pitch frame, 95 total.
A quick, 10-pitch, 1-2-3 eighth left Zimmermann at 105 pitches overall.
• Jordan Zimmermann's Line: 8.0 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks, 105 P, 69 S, 6/4 GO/FO.
4. Hitting Dickey: "'In, out, up, down, back and forth, light, heavy, tried it all,'" a then-19-year-old Bryce Harper told reporters when asked about the prospect of facing the Mets' knuckler R.A. Dickey in a September 2012 matchup when the right-handed starter was still with New York. Harper was 0 for 10 with 6 Ks against Dickey to that point in the 2010 no.1 overall pick's rookie campaign.
"'Just can't hit the guy,'" Harper said, so he didn't anticipate being in the lineup.
SNY Mets announcers Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling joked during the previous night's broadcast that having played for Davey Johnson when he managed the Mets, a comment like Harper's almost guaranteed he'd be in the game against Dickey and they were right.
Johnson started Harper and Harper went 4 for 5 on the night with three hits off Dickey in the Nationals' 5-3 win.
"Harp didn't want to play against the knuckleballer," Johnson said after the game. "But he got three hits, so now he realizes he can hit a knuckleballer, so we're over that hump."
It wasn't just Harper who struggled to hit Dickey that season, when the then-37-year-old pitcher did go on to win the NL Cy Young, going (20-6) and posting a 2.73 ERA, a 3.27 FIP, 54 walks (2.08 BB/9) and 230 Ks (8.86 K/9) in 34 games, 33 starts and 233 ⅔ IP.
Since then, however, and especially this season, the veteran right-hander has struggled to reproduce those results.
In 10 starts before tonight's in the nation's capital, the 40-year-old knuckler was just (2-5) with a 5.77 ERA, a 5.66 FIP, 23 walks (3.23 BB/9) and 35 Ks (4.92 K/9) in 64 IP over which opposing hitters have a .256/.322/.475 line against him.
#Nationals manager Matt Williams on how to face a knuckleball pitcher like R.A. Dickey: "See it high, let it fly. See it low, let it go.— thom loverro (@thomloverro) June 1, 2015
In five starts in May, including an eight-inning outing to start the month in which he only allowed one run, Dickey was (2-2) with a 6.27 ERA, 5.85 FIP and .254/.307/.508 line against in 33 IP.
Dickey took the mound this afternoon in Nationals Park and gave up back-to-back singles on back-to-back pitches to Yunel Escobar and Ian Desmond, but Bryce Harper K'd looking at 1-2 knuckler, Ryan Zimmerman sent a flyout to deep right and WIlson Ramos sent one to center to end a 16-pitch first.
Danny Espinosa singled through the left side of the infield with one down in the Nats' second, but he was stranded there at the end of a 12-pitch frame by Dickey. 28 total after two.
Yunel Escobar was 2 for 2 today after a line drive single to right started the Nationals' third, and he took second on a passed ball with Ian Desmond at the plate, but was stranded there three groundouts later. 17-pitch frame for Dickey, 45 total.
Tyler Moore pulled a single through short with one down in the home-half of the fourth inning. Danny Espinosa sent a high-chopper to third that Josh Donaldson barehanded before firing a strike to first for the second out of the inning and Michael Taylor K'd swinging through a high, dancing knuckler for the final out of a 15-pitch inning. 60 knucklers overall.
Jordan Zimmermann singled to center on a 3-2 fastball from Dickey and Yunel Escobar walked to put two on in front of Ian Desmond, who bunted both runners over/gave up an out. Bryce Harper stepped in with two runners in scoring position at second and third and lined an RBI single to center field to make it 1-0 Nats. A sac fly by Ryan Zimmerman in the next at bat made it 2-0 Nationals. 26-pitch frame, 86 total for Dickey.
• Michael Taylor lined a single to center on an 0-2 knuckler with two down in the Nationals' sixth, but a fly to left from Jordan Zimmermann ended a 14-knuckler frame that left Dickey at 100 pitches even.
• R.A. Dickey's Line: 6.0 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 Ks, 100 P, 70 S, 7/3 GO/FO.
3. History?: This week's three-game set was the first matchup between the NL East's Washington Nationals and AL East's Toronto Blue Jays since 2012 when the Nationals visited the Rogers Centre for a three-game set which they swept, outscoring the Jays 16-7 and outhitting them 33-17, as the Nats' pregame notes for the series opener in D.C. mentioned.
Almost game time at Nationals Park. pic.twitter.com/x8oTRr9nqh— Blue Jays (@BlueJays) June 2, 2015
The Nationals have won six of the last seven meetings between the two teams overall and they've split the eighteen games the two franchises played since the Nats relocated from Montreal to D.C. for the 2005 season.
The Blue Jays last visit to the nation's capital came back in 2009 when the Nationals won the first two games of a three-game set in Nationals Park on back-to-back walk-offs but dropped the series finale.
The Nats entered the series at 28-22 with a 5-5 record in their last ten games, while the Blue Jays were 23-29 overall and 5-5 in their last ten as well.
• The Nationals won their seventh in the last eight with the Jays today, 2-0 final.
2. Turning Point(s): A rare fastball from R.A. Dickey to Jordan Zimmermann in a full count ended up going back up the middle for a leadoff single by the Nationals' starter in the bottom of the fifth, and Dickey issued his first walk of the game to Yunel Escobar in the next at bat, putting two on in front of Ian Desmond, who got a sac bunt down to move both runners into scoring position and Bryce Harper came through with an RBI line drive to center that put the Nats up 1-0 over the Blue Jays. #keepthelinemoving. Ryan Zimmerman's sac fly to center brought Escobar in too, 2-0.
• Jordan Zimmermann gave up back-to-back singles by Chris Colabello and Josh Thole in the Blue Jays' half of the seventh, and after a sac bunt put both runners in scoring position, he worked carefully around Edwin Encarnacion, loading the bases up with one down. Russell Martin stepped in next and sent a grounder to second that started an inning-ending 4-6-3. Well played, Zimmermann. Well played. [ed. note - "That's how people say things on TV, you know, repeating things like that. Just like that."]
1. The Wrap-Up: Blue Jays' right-hander Bo Schultz gave up a two-out single by Bryce Harper, who promptly stole second with Ryan Zimmerman at the plate, but a lineout to right stranded Harper there.
Schultz threw a scoreless eighth to keep it a two-run game.
Drew Storen came on for the save in the top of the ninth inning looking for his 17th save and retired the Blue Jays in order. Ballgame. 2-0 Nationals.
Nationals now 29-22