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Jordan Zimmermann allowed four runs and eight hits in five innings today.
"This is the dog days, right now," manager Davey Johnson said following today's 5-1 loss to the Astros. "Every spring right before I go to the whip with the guys and I'm playing my regular lineup, it's the dog days. I mean, I've seen it my whole life. I kind of expect it."
The Nationals have been slogging their way through it for the last week or so. Today's loss was their ninth in 10 games (they tied the other). The lineup was no-hit by Houston's Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell today for 6 2/3 innings.
"I've seen some bad performances in spring," Johnson said. "But I've never been no-hit."
Even starter Jordan Zimmermann seemed a bit out of sync, allowing four runs and eight hits in five innings. The right-hander admitted the dog days may have gotten the best of him as well.
"Yeah, I say this is the hardest part right now, the last week or so," he said. "You want to get the season started and head up to D.C. and get some new scenery. It's kind of like the last homestretch here where you've got to keep pushing and get to the finish line."
One reason not to read too much into spring training games: Pitchers aren't always approaching hitters the way they will during the regular season.
To wit: Zimmermann today went after Astros No. 8 hitter Jose Altuve with two outs and two on in the bottom of the fourth. Altuve proceeded to drive an RBI single up the middle before Zimmermann retired the pitcher.
"During the season, I probably would have worked around him and gotten to the pitcher," Zimmermann said. "But down here, I'm not going to give in to an 8-hole hitter and not try to get him out. Next start I'm going to take it like it would be during the season and work a little differently."
Indeed, the entire Nationals roster will start to approach games with a bit more urgency next week. Johnson plans to play most of his regulars, often for the full nine innings. And starting pitchers will be stretched out to six innings and up to as many as 100 pitches.
"I don't want them peaking too early," Johnson said. "Next week is where I think you'll see the kind of ballclub we've got."