What was slated to be a pitchers duel between two of the best young arms in the National League developed quickly into a one-sided disaster on Sunday.
It was just another day at the office for Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, while Jordan Zimmermann turned in the worst start of his major league career. Zimmermann lasted just two innings for the first time in his five MLB seasons, allowing seven earned runs on eight hits and two walks.
The Dodgers completed the sweep in their 9-2 victory, sending the Nats to an unfortunate start to the season’s second half. Even in relative good health and with a new-look lineup, the Nats still couldn’t move the needle on offense. They have now scored two runs or less in 11 of their last 12 losses.
“The bottom line is all of us, myself included, haven’t been producing like we should,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “There’s nobody to blame besides us, no coaches or anything like that.”
With Kershaw on the mound, the Nats went with a bit of a different lineup in hopes to break their recent scoring slump. Bryce Harper played center field and batted leadoff for just the second time in his career, and Scott Hairston started in left. Kershaw, however, saw no trouble with the Nationals for the most part.
Jayson Werth did manage two solo home runs off the former Cy Young winner, but those were the team’s only strikes against him on the day. Kershaw pitched seven innings of two-hit ball, striking out nine and allowing no walks.
With a lineup already on the ropes, Kershaw took advantage.
“He’s good,” Kurt Suzuki said. “To me he didn’t throw the ball over the middle of the plate, just on the corners. He keeps the ball down. He had a really good curveball, really good slider today. What are you going to do?”
In facing Kershaw, the Nats knew they would need a crisp start of their own from Zimmermann to hang around. Unfortunately Zimmermann was not his usual self, matching a season-worst seven earned runs with two homers and two walks through the two innings.
Early on it was clear his command wasn’t there, despite the fact Zimmermann felt as good physically as he has in a long time. Zimmermann missed the All-Star game due to stiffness in his neck and thinks taking the time off really helped.
“It’s weird, sometimes it’s like that,” Zimmermann said. “Neck felt fine, everything felt good, it just, I hung a few sliders -- the two home runs were hanging sliders -- and when I did make some quality pitches, they had good swings on it. They’re hot right now. It’s just one of those days.”
Both of the homers Zimmermann allowed came in what was an overall ugly second inning. The Dodgers batted around their lineup and forced Zimmermann to throw 40 pitches to get the three outs.
Matt Kemp led off with a monster home run to left field, a solo shot that bounced high off a seat and onto the concourse. A.J. and Mark Ellis then got hits to put two men in scoring position. Kershaw was able to bring home the second run on a groundout to second base.
Carl Crawford singled to bring home the third run and then stole second. He was joined on base by Nick Punto who walked, and both runners were then sent home by a Hanley Ramirez high flying homer to the left field bullpen.
An Ethier walk and a Kemp double later and Zimmermann had allowed seven runs on just 58 total pitches.
“It’s just one of those days where nothing was working,” Zimmermann said.
The Nats replaced Zimmermann with Ross Ohlendorf in the third and, despite a two-run fourth inning, finally saw some success against the Dodgers’ lineup. Ohlendorf finished with 88 pitches through six innings of work, allowing two earned on six hits and a walk. The veteran will have four days rest before taking a start in Friday’s doubleheader.
The Nationals now welcome the Pittsburgh Pirates to town for a four-game series. The Pirates are one of the best teams in the National League at 57-39 and will not make matters any easier.
The Nats have made changes lately and seen players come off the disabled list, but are still getting the same results. What’s next, would a team meeting work?
Zimmerman doesn’t think so.
“Pep talks don’t work for grownups,” he said. “If you have a meeting and you win then it’s the best meeting in the world and the truth is you go out and play the game the same way you do every night.”
Whatever the Nats try next, the move will likely come from manager Davey Johnson, and the skipper is growing more and more frustrated with his now 48-50 club.
“Nobody hates losing more than me,” he said. “Sometimes though it’s tough to have patience.”