5. Zimmermann vs the Cubs: Unbeaten in his last eight starts before today's, Jordan Zimmermann went (4-0) with the Washington Nationals 6-2 in those outings, in which the 29-year-old right-hander has put up a 2.00 ERA and held hitters to a .254/.288/.308 line in 54 IP. One of the eight starts in that stretch was against Chicago during the Nats' visit to the Windy City last week. Zimmermann held the Cubs to one run on six hits in seven innings pitched in Wrigley Field, and followed that strong performance up with eight scoreless vs the Toronto Blue Jays in a 2-0 win earlier this week in the nation's capital.
Zimmermann's recent run of success followed a less-than-impressive month of April in which he put up a 4.88 ERA in 27 ⅔ IP over which opposing hitters had a .294/.342/.349 line. So what's been different since then?
"I've been feeling good," Zimmermann told reporters after improving to (5-2) on the year with the win over Toronto.
"I was a little off in the beginning and everything is working now and right where I want to be."
"Early on, like I said, I was flying open and the ball was sinking and running and didn't have very good control and now I'm more on line and staying though the target."
Through 11 starts, Zimmermann was (5-2) with a 2.88 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 15 walks (1.97 BB/9), 45 Ks (5.90 K/9) and a .263/.307/.324 line against in 68 ⅔ IP. He was asked after the start vs the Blue Jays, about his strikeout totals this season being down some from a career mark of 7.34 K/9?
"I guess they're not swinging and missing when I get two strikes on them," Zimmermann said. "Making some pitches and they're grounding out or flying out and I'm just not getting the strikeouts, which I'm totally fine with. It keeps the pitch count down and stay out there longer."
Zimmermann's second start of the season against the Cubs was the ninth of his career. In the previous eight, he was (1-4) with a 4.32 ERA, 11 walks (1.98 BB/9) and 48 Ks (8.64 K/9) in 50 IP over which Cubs' hitters had a combined .274/.311/.518 line.
This time he was facing them in Nats Park, where he was (3-1) with a 2.01 ERA, a 2.97 FIP, nine walks (2.01 BB/9) and 23 Ks (5.13 K/9) in six starts and 40 ⅓ IP in which visiting hitters have a .222/.269/.273 line, as opposed to Zimmermann's 4.13 ERA, 3.33 FIP, six walks (1.91 BB/9), 22 Ks (6.99 K/9) and .313/.358/.393 line against in five starts and 28 ⅓ IP on the road this season.
Zimmermann walked Anthony Rizzo with one down in the top of the first, but picked him off with Kris Bryant at the plate, 1-3-4-1, and threw a 1-2 slider outside by Bryant for a swinging K that ended a 13-pitch first.
Chris Coghlan doubled to left on a 95 mph 1-2 fastball with one down in the Cubs' second, and scored when Starlin Castro took a 93 mph 2-2 fastball to left-center in the next at bat, 1-0. Chris Denorfia singled to center on a 94 mph 0-2 fastball to put two on with one out, but a bunt back to the mound by Kyle Hendricks allowed Zimmermann to cut the lead runner down at third. Jonathan Herrera stepped in with two on and two out and popped out to right to end a 25-pitch second that left Zimmerman at 38 pitches overall after two.
Given a 2-1 lead to work with, Zimmermann gave up a leadoff double to right by Dexter Fowler, who went down to get a 2-2 curve and lined it into the corner. Anthony Rizzo popped out to center on a first-pitch fastball for the first out of the frame. Kris Bryant sent a backspin roller toward short in the next at bat, and Ian Desmond got to it but pocketed it. Miguel Montero hit a 3-2 fastball to the track in right where Bryce Harper caught out no.2. Fowler took third on the fly, but was stranded there when Chris Coghlan flew out to center to end a 21-pitch frame. 59 total.
Chris Denorfia lined a first-pitch fastball to right for a one-out single in the top of the fourth and took second on Kyle Hendricks' groundout to second. Jonathan Herrera lined an 0-2 pitch to right in the next at bat, bringing Denorfia around ahead of a strong throw in from Bryce Harper, 2-2. Herrera took second on the throw in, but was stranded there when Dexter Fowler popped out to end a 14-pitch inning. 73 overall.
Anthony Rizzo sent a slow roller out toward second on a 1-2 fastball and hit it slowly enough that he was able to reach first base ahead of Anthony Rendon's off-balance throw. A double to left field via third base by Kris Bryant in the next at bat put runners on second and third with no one out and Zimmermann walked Miguel Montero on four pitches to load the bases. Chris Coghlan lined a 1-1 fastball to right in the next at bat to bring two runs in and make it a 4-2 game. 19-pitch frame. 92 total.
• Jordan Zimmermann's Line: 5.0 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 Ks, 92 P, 66 S, 3/6 GO/FO.
4. Hendricks vs the Nationals: Chicago Cubs' right-hander Kyle Hendricks, 25, held the Nationals to just one run on four hits in seven innings when he faced Washington in Wrigley Field last week, in a 3-2 win in which he received no decision. That start came on the heels of a complete game shutout of the San Diego Padres.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams was impressed with what Hendricks was able to do against the Nats, and his command of his sinker
"It's down in the zone, it's sinking, he throws a changeup off of it," Williams said.
"He's spotting his fastball away, down and away to the right-handers and that allows him to get ahead in the count. It came up a little bit later in the game for us and we hit some balls hard, but couldn't scratch much against him."
Through ten starts this season before today's Hendricks was (1-2) with a 52.3% GB%, a 3.99 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 13 walks (1.99 BB/9) and 48 Ks (7.36 K/9) in 58 ⅔ IP over which he's held opposing hitters to a .252/.305/.378 line.
As the Cubs' pregame notes mentioned, however, he's struggled with runners in scoring position this season.
With the bases empty, opposing hitters have put up a .261/.313/.373 line, and with men on base overall, he had a .236/.295/.386 line before today, but with runners in scoring position, that jumped up to .342/.432/.579.
Could the Nationals get runners in scoring position and put pressure on the right-hander?
Yunel Escobar lined a single to right with one down in Hendricks' second start against the Nats this season, but he was forced out at second one out later and the Cubs' starter was through an 18-pitch opening frame.
Starlin Castro bobbled a grounder to short off Wilson Ramos' bat and threw late to first putting a runner on in front of Ian Desmond, who hit a 2-0 sinker over the out-of-town scoreboard for a two-run home run that made it 2-1 Nats. 21-pitch second for Hendricks, 39 total after two.
Hendricks retired the Nationals in order in a quick, 12-pitch third that left him at 51 pitches. With the score tied up at 2-2 after three and a half, Hendricks retired the Nationals in order again in an 11-pitch bottom of the fourth that left him at 62 pitches.
With the Cubs ahead 4-2 after they scored two in the top of the fifth, Hendricks gave up a one-out single to left by Clint Robinson, who went from first-to-third™ on a single to right-center by Denard Span and scored on an opposite field single to right by Yunel Escobar, 4-3. Bryce Harper stepped in with two on and one out popped out to short-center for the second out of the frame and Anthony Rendon popped out to foul territory off first to end the inning, stranding two. 22-pitch frame, 84 total.
• Kyle Hendricks' Line: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 84 P, 55 S, 5/5 GO/FO.
3. Stop Anthony Rizzo!!: Through the first three games of the Cubs' four-game set in D.C., 25-year-old first baseman Anthony Rizzo was 6 for 12 with a double and two home runs.
On the season, in six games against Washington, the '07 Boston Red Sox' 6th Round pick out of Stoneman-Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was 9 for 22 (.409/.458/.818) with three doubles and two home runs in 24 plate appearances, leaving him 33 for 103 (.320/.386/.592) with five doubles and seven home runs in 27 games and 114 career PAs against the Nats in his five major league campaigns.
In Nationals Park, Rizzo was 20 for 53 before today (.377/.389/.623) with one of those doubles and four of his home runs against the Nationals in the nation's capital.
He was also in the midst of an 11-game hitting streak heading into the series finale in D.C., with 15 hits in 40 at bats over that stretch, over which he'd put up a .375/.468/.725 line with six doubles and two home runs.
He entered the series finale with the Nationals third in the majors in OBP (.446), behind only Bryce Harper (.472) and the D-Backs' Paul Goldschmidt (.467).
Against Jordan Zimmermann? Rizzo was 4 for 10 (.400/.500/.800) with a double and a home run in 12 PAs.
Could the Nationals' starter keep Rizzo in check this afternoon?
• 1st AB: Zimmermann started 3-0, got a called strike, but walked Rizzo with one down in the first.
• 2nd AB: Dexter Fowler doubled in front of Rizzo in the top of the first, but the hard-hitting first baseman popped up on a first-pitch fastball. 0 for 1, BB.
• 3rd AB: Zimmermann got ahead 1-2 on Rizzo in at bat no.3, but gave up an infield single on a slow roller to second on a 93 mph fastball. 1 for 2, BB.
• 4th AB vs Blake Treinen: With two down in the sixth, Rizzo doubled to right on a first-pitch sinker. 2 for 3, 2B, BB.
• 5th AB vs Casey Janssen: Fly to center field, 2 for 4, 2B, BB.
VERDICT: Rizzo wins, and not the good Rizzo.
2. Turning Point(s): Cubs' shortstop Starlin Castro committed his 13th error on a grounder to short by Wilson Ramos in the first at bat of the Nats' second, and Ian Desmond stepped in with a runner on in the next at bat and hit a 2-0 sinker out to right, over the out-of-town scoreboard for a two-run blast that put the Nationals up 2-1 a half-inning after Chicago jumped out to a 1-0 lead on an RBI single by Castro. Castro giveth, Castro... costeth? Compoundeth?
• With the Nationals ahead 2-1 in the fourth, Chris Denorfia hit a leadoff single to right field on a first-pitch fastball and took second on a groundout to the right side by Kyle Hendricks. Jordan Zimmermann got ahead 0-2 on Cubs' second baseman Jonathan Herrera, but gave up an RBI line drive to right on a two-strike curve and Denorfia scored to tie it up at 2-2.
• The Cubs loaded the bases with no one out in the fifth, and Chris Coghlan lined a 1-1 fastball to right field for a two-run single that put Chicago up by two, 4-2, but the Nationals struck back in the bottom of the inning with three-straight one-out hits that made it a 4-3 game in the nation's capital.
• Blake Treinen gave up a two-out double in the Cubs' half of the sixth, then loaded the bases with back-to-back walks before firing a wild one to Chris Coghlan that bounced and got by Wilson Ramos allowing one run in and a broken bat single by Starlin Castro brought in the second run of the inning and Chicago's sixth run of the game. 6-3 after five and a half.
1. The Wrap-Up: Blake Treinen took the mound for the Nationals in the top of the sixth and gave up a two-out double to right by Anthony Rizzo and a walk to Kris Bryant. Miguel Montero stepped in with two runners on and worked the count full and walked to load'em up for Chris Coghlan. Treinen bounced a pitch to Coghlan that got away from Wilson Ramos and allowed a run in. 5-3. After an intentional walk to Coghlan loaded'em back up, Starlin Castro lined a single over short to bring in one before Michael Taylor threw Miguel Montero out at home. 6-3 Cubs after five and a half.
Justin Grimm took over for the Cubs in the Nats' half of the sixth and retired the Nationals in order.
Aaron Barrett threw a relatively quick, 17-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh.
Dan Uggla lined a single to left with one down in the Nats' seventh. Cubs' skipper Joe Maddon went to the bullpen for James Russell vs Denard Span. Span popped out on a full-count fastball. Yunel Escobar singled up the middle with two down to bring Bryce Harper to the plate. Lefty vs lefty. Two on, two out. 6-3 Cubs. Fly to left for out no.3.
With Casey Janssen on the mound, Kris Bryant "tripled" to right on a fly ball that Bryce Harper missed, but a lineout to first by Miguel Montero ended a scoreless frame.
Hector Rondon threw a 1-2-3 eighth inning to keep it 6-3 Cubbies.
Matt Thornton gave up a two-out single to right by Chris Denorfia, but nothing else. Still 6-3 Cubs.
Jason Motte came on for the save with Pedro Strop unavailable and retired the Nationals in order. Ballgame.