Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann faces Ryan Dempster in the rubber game at Wrigley Field.
Zimmermann will need to both pitch well and hope for some run support if he wants to get his record over the .500 mark (he enters today 7-9 despite a sparkling 3.12 ERA). The Nationals have begun hitting the ball better in recent weeks, though last night were pretty much shut down by Rodrigo Lopez and three Cubs relievers.
One potential bright spot: Danny Espinosa dropped a perfect bunt single in the eighth inning, perhaps the kind of thing that can help get him going again after struggling through a prolonged slump. Davey Johnson said this morning he had talked to Espinosa about bunting more and believes it can be a big weapon for him. We'll see what effect it may have.
It's another gorgeous day at Wrigley Field. If you can't watch on TV or listen on the radio, check back here for plenty of updates...
NATIONALS at CUBS
Where: Wrigley Field
Gametime: 2:20 p.m.
Radio: WFED (1500 AM), WHFS (1580 AM)
Weather: Sunny, 79 degrees, Wind 5 mph in from CF
STARTING LINEUPS2:24 p.m. -- With a strike from Ryan Dempster to Rick Ankiel, this game is underway. Seventy-four spectacular degrees and not a cloud in the sky.
CF Rick Ankiel
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Michael Morse
RF Jayson Werth
LF Laynce Nix
SS Ian Desmond
C Wilson Ramos
P Jordan Zimmermann
SS Starlin Castro
RF Reed Johnson
3B Aramis Ramirez
1B Carlos Pena
CF Marlon Byrd
LF Alfonso Soriano
2B Darwin Barney
C Koyie Hill
P Ryan Dempster
2:32 p.m. -- And Ryan Zimmerman extends his hitting streak to 19 games in style: By parking a 2-1 pitch from Dempster onto Waveland Ave. That's three straight days in which Zim has kept his hit streak alive in the first inning. Very reminiscent of his 30-game run in 2009, when he seemed to smoke the ball in the first inning every single night. Nats take an early 1-0 lead.
2:41 p.m. -- Solid bottom of the first for Jordan Zimmermann, who did allow a two-out double to Aramis Ramirez but got both Starlin Castro and Reed Johnson to ground out and Carlos Pena to pop out.
2:53 p.m. -- Another quick inning for Zimmermann, retiring the side in the bottom of the second without letting a ball leave the infield. Marlon Byrd popped out, Alfonso Soriano grounded out and Darwin Barney struck out on a breaking ball in the dirt. Nats still lead 1-0 after two.
3:14 p.m. -- The Nats have done much against Dempster since the Zimmerman homer, but that's OK so far because Zimmermann has been quite effective. Though he allowed a pair of singles in the third, no damage because Ramirez popped out to end the inning. Jordan has been very efficient to this point, throwing 30 of his 39 pitches for strkes. 1-0 as we go to the fourth.
3:33 p.m. -- And the Cubs tie it up in the bottom of the fourth after Soriano triples off Werth's outstretched glove in right-center field. Tough play for Werth, but not a totally impossible play to make, either. That scored Byrd from first and put the Cubs in position to take the lead, with a man on third and one out. But credit to Zimmermann for getting Barney to pop out, then (after intentionally walking Hill) striking out Dempster on a 2-2 slider. So it's now 1-1 heading to the fifth.
3:40 p.m. -- We've seen this before: The Nats score early, then go silent at the plate. They've managed one single and one walk against Dempster since Zimmerman's first-inning homer. 12 of the last 14 batters retired now.
3:51 p.m. -- That right there, ladies and gentlemen, was a serious display of power pitching from Jordan Zimmermann. Runner on first, one out, Aramis Ramirez had just crushed a foul ball out of the park. And Zimmermann comes right back and strikes him out with a 95 mph high heater. And then he gets Carlos Pena on a 94 mph fastball to end the fifth. Impressive. It's still 1-1 going to the sixth.
4:01 p.m. -- Hmm, Espinosa caught stealing with Zimmerman (and his 19-game hitting streak) at the plate for the second time today. That's, um, some interesting baseball right there.
4:10 p.m. -- We've got ourselves an old-fashioned pitchers' duel here, folks. Jordan Zimmermann and Ryan Dempster each bringing it today. Still 1-1 going to the seventh.
4:15 p.m. -- Uh-oh. Morse gets drilled in the left elbow/triceps area by a Dempster fastball and is in serious pain. He walked down to first base, where trainer Mike McGowan and Davey Johnson met him. They looked at him for a while, then Morse walked off the field holding the arm very closely to his body. Not a positive development for the Nats. Jonny Gomes has come on to pinch-run and will probably take over in left field, with Laynce Nix moving to first base.
4:32 p.m. -- An otherwise fantastic performance by Zimmermann has been undone by one pitch to Aramis Ramirez, who lofted Zimm's 1-2 offering into the left-field bleachers for a two-run homer. The Cubs take a 3-1 lead in the seventh.
4:34 p.m. -- Er, make that an otherwise fantastic performance by Zimmermann has been undone by two pitches. The first resulted in Ramirez's two-run homer. The second (a 0-1 offering to Carlos Pena) just landed on Sheffield Ave. All of a sudden, it's 4-1 Cubs, and Zimmermann's day is done. A very unfortunate end to his afternoon.
4:53 p.m. -- You know, if Major League Baseball salaries were based strictly on a player's ability to beat out a groundball, Brian Bixler would get a $300 million contract. He may not do many things well, but he certainly gets down the line as fast as anyone I've ever seen. And because of that, he's help get a rally going here in the eighth. It's now 4-2, with two on, one out, Espinosa at the plate and Kerry Wood on the mound for the Cubs.
5:00 p.m. -- And Wood turns the clock back to 1998 to power his way out of the inning. Strikes out Espinosa on an 0-2 curveball. Strikes out Zimmerman on a 1-2, 97 mph fastball. (Espinosa, by the way, has zero home runs and zero RBI since July 17.)
5:03 p.m. -- Curious decision by Davey Johnson to leave Bixler in the game at third base and take out Zimmerman as part of a double switch. It's probably not going to matter. But if this game somehow goes extra innings, the Nats' best player will be nowhere to be found.
5:09 p.m. -- Last chance for the Nats. We go to the ninth, they trail 4-2, with Gomes, Werth and Nix due up against Carlos Marmol.
5:27 p.m. -- Well, that was at least, uh, interesting. Marmol loaded the bases with nobody out, struck out Desmond on a 2-2 slider in the dirt, then gave up a run on Ramos' chopper to third that became an infield single. With the bases still loaded and one out, Bixler struck out on an ugly check swing on a slider well outside. That put it all on Ankiel's shoulders, and he couldn't quite lift the ball far enough. Sent a 2-1 pitch to the warning track in left-center, caught by Reed Johnson to end the game. Final: Cubs 4, Nats 3.