Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann faces Cliff Lee tonight in the rubber game of this series.
To pull this one off, the Nationals will need a strong pitching performance from Jordan Zimmermann (as detailed earlier today), some timely hits against Cliff Lee from a lineup that has Michael Morse back in left field and clean defense after Ian Desmond's two-error game last night.
It's an absolutely beautiful day for baseball. If you don't already have tickets, head down this way and take advantage of this spectacular spring evening. Updates to come...
PHILLIES at NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN2, MLB Network (outside of D.C.)
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 175
Weather: Clear, 66 degrees, Wind 4 mph LF to RF
STARTING LINEUPS5:17 p.m. -- One short pregame note to pass along: Henry Rodriguez's rehab stint with Class AA Harrisburg has ended after three appearances. The right-hander has been bumped up to Class AAA Syracuse to continue the assignment. Rodriguez, on the 15-day DL since the end of spring training with a neck injury, was fantastic at Harrisburg, tossing four scoreless innings, striking out seven and not walking a batter. His Syracuse stint got off to a bit of a rougher start, though. Pitching in the first half of today's doubleheader against Pawtucket, Rodriguez walked two and struck out one over 1 1/3 innings. There's no sure timetable for his return to D.C. -- he's allowed to remain on rehab until May 7 -- but once he's healthy, he'll have to be placed on the 25-man roster or risk being lost on waivers.
SS Ian Desmond
CF Rick Ankiel
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche
C Wilson Ramos
LF Michael Morse
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Jerry Hairston
P Jordan Zimmermann
CF Shane Victorino
3B Placido Polanco
SS Jimmy Rollins
1B Ryan Howard
RF Ben Francisco
LF Raul Ibanez
C Carlos Ruiz
2B Wilson Valdez
P Cliff Lee
7:06 p.m. -- And we are underway. We may not enjoy a nicer night for baseball all season than this. 69 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, a very light breeze. Even the cherry blossoms are in bloom behind the left-field fence.
7:09 p.m. -- Can't ask for anything better out of Jordan Zimmermann in the top of the first: three groundball outs, eight total pitches. Here comes Cliff Lee. What's the over-under on three-ball counts for Lee tonight? I'm saying it's 3.
7:14 p.m. -- Upset of the night: Lee threw first-pitch balls to the first three batters he faced. Of course, he still retired the side, striking out both Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth while getting Rick Ankiel to ground out. Eleven pitches, seven strikes for the lefty in the bottom of the first.
7:20 p.m. -- So far, so good for Zimmermann. Six up, six down. Five groundball outs and a strikeout of Raul Ibanez on a 95-mph heater.
7:31 p.m. -- At some point, someone from either team will probably reach base. But it hasn't happened yet. Lee has retired all six Nats he's faced. Zimmermann has retired all nine Phillies, striking out three. He's only thrown 33 pitches, 24 of them strikes. Looks really sharp so far.
7:43 p.m. -- Well, the Nats got their first baserunner of the night when Danny Espinosa led of the third with a double to right-center. He took third moments later on Jerry Hairston's flyball to center, setting up an interesting scenario with one out, a man on third and Zimmermann up. The Phillies brought their infield in, anticipating the squeeze. They didn't get that; Zimmermann swung at the first pitch and rapped a sharp grounder right at Jimmy Rollins. Unfortunately, Espinosa was running on contact and was thrown out easily at the plate. Not quite sure I understand the thinking there. Why not hold Espinosa and hope Desmond could drive the run in. Of course, Desmond struck out looking at a fastball, so what do I know? Still scoreless here after three.
7:50 p.m. -- Twelve up, twelve down for Zimmermann. He's got four strikeouts, a couple of them on 95 mph fastballs. Only one guy has hit the ball out of the infield (Valdez on a lineout to right in the third). Rollins did smoke a line drive right at Adam LaRoche to end the fourth, but that's as close as the Phillies have come to putting a man on so far. Only 46 pitches (34 strikes) through four innings for Zimmermann. Impressive.
7:55 p.m. -- Man, are these two guys efficient or what? Zimmermann and Lee have combined to throw 86 pitches in four full innings so far. That's roughly what it took for Daniel Cabrera to get through two innings a couple years ago. Still a few late-arriving fans trickling into the park. They've already missed four innings.
7:59 p.m. -- Fifteen up, fifteen down for Zimmermann. He needed only eight pitches to navigate his way through the fifth, getting a halfway-decent catch from Werth on Francisco's sinking liner to right. The Nats obviously watch Zimmermann's pitch count closely and won't let him go much beyond the century mark. But he's at only 54 through five, so it's really not a concern yet. The fact the Nats haven't scored yet, however, is.
8:09 p.m. -- Oh well, so much for that. Carlos Ruiz just crushed a hanging breaking ball from Zimmermann off the top of the left-field fence. So the Phillies lead 1-0 in the sixth and Zimmermann's date with history will have to wait.
8:16 p.m. -- And just like that it's 2-0 Phillies after Jerry Hairston made an ill-advised and wild throw to first after making a nifty play on Polanco's sharp grounder to third. That allowed Victorino (who doubled moments earlier) to score an unearned run. Tough break for Zimmermann, who is not charged with that run but still finds himself trailing by two runs against a really tough opponent. We go to the bottom of the sixth.
8:21 p.m. -- Ian Desmond tonight: 3 at-bats, 3 strikeouts. Looks totally lost up there.
8:32 p.m. -- Cliff Lee is taking this thing to new levels. He's now notched five consecutive strikeouts and has faced only one more than the minimum through seven innings. Nats are suddenly down to their final six outs, trailing 2-0 and with little reason to believe Lee is going to come out of this game anytime soon.
8:40 p.m. -- That'll do it for Zimmermann, who departs to a nice ovation after loading the bases with nobody out in the eighth. He wasn't helped by his defense; Espinosa booted a grounder from Lee to set up this situation, with Drew Storen entering to face Victorino and nowhere to put him.
8:48 p.m. -- Not that this game looked all that winnable down 2-0 to Lee in the eighth, but it really looks unwinnable now that the Phillies lead 4-0 thanks to a run-scoring groundout from Polanco (Espinosa made a fantastic play to get to the ball up the middle and flip to Desmond for one out) and an RBI single from Rollins. Storen is out of the game, Doug Slaten is in to face Ryan Howard and the Nats are in serious trouble.
8:52 p.m. -- Normally, a pitching line like this (7 ip, 5 h, 1 er, 0 bb, 4 k) gets you a win. Barring something dramatic happening here soon, it's going to get Zimmermann a loss.
8:59 p.m. -- Hide the women and children before reading this: Ian Desmond and Michael Morse are now a combined 1-for-36 at home this season. And Cliff Lee ha recorded 12 strikeouts in eight innings, including a stretch of seven of eight batters until Hairston popped out to end the eighth. Still 4-0.
9:12 p.m. -- That's it. It's over. Nats lose 4-0 as Lee tosses the second straight complete game by a Phillies starter. Jesus Flores did lead off the ninth with a single in his first big-league at-bat since September 2009 (and his first big-league hit since May 9, 2009, the night he fractured his shoulder). But that's all the Nats could do against Lee. Can't say they didn't play the Phillies tough over the last three nights. Still lost two of three, though.