CHICAGO — Jordan Zimmermann spun his body around toward the ivy-covered right field wall at Wrigley Field, grimaced and squatted beside the mound. The curveball he’d hung to Nate Schierholtz, a meatball of a pitch right over the heart of the plate, was causing a scramble amongst the Cubs faithful in the bleachers.
It was the first of several souvenirs they’d have a chance to dart for on this night
About two hours earlier, before the Chicago Cubs demolished the Washington Nationals in an 11-1 blowout in the first of this four-game set, general manager Mike Rizzo sat in the visitors’ dugout and talked about his team.
He’d made a waiver trade for outfielder David DeJesus, a late-summer attempt to bolster one of their areas of underperformance, and Rizzo tried to keep his outlook positive. He focused on the 39 games they had left and the hope that all of that talent and potential so many had seen in his team would show itself on a consistent basis.
“I certainly haven’t given up on this season,” Rizzo said as the warm Chicago wind swirled around him. “And I think that with the talent level that we have on this ballclub that we still have a run left in us.”
But for all of the hope, the Nationals continue to produce few results to make it seem realistic.
For the third time since the All-Star break, their All-Star right-hander allowed at least five earned runs. For the 33rd time this season, they scored one run or fewer.
For Zimmermann, this time the total was eight: with three scoring on Schierholtz’s first-inning bomb, one on Schierhotlz’s double in the third and Donnie Murphy’s solo shot in the fourth, and then three more when Dioner Navarro took him deep to right for another three-run shot in the fifth. Fernando Abad and Ian Krol combined to allow three more, all on homers.
The Cubs had scored one run or fewer in four of their previous six games.
“A hanging curveball, a fastball that was pretty much middle,” Zimmermann said. “The two (three-run) home runs killed me. I can live with the solo home run, or even a few base hits, but when you get guys on you’ve got to really buckle down and make some pitches and I wasn’t able to do that.”
“We haven’t done really that against a real quality pitcher,” said Cubs manager Dale Sveum. “I think the hanging breaking ball he threw Nate was the big piece of the puzzle to get us on the board there. A guy that can get ground balls, with his velocity and everything, to get out of that and get a three-run lead was huge.”
Zimmermann, who dealt with a lingering neck issue starting at the end of May, insists he is healthy, that his pure stuff has been sharp all year but it is his location that is off lately. He chastised himself on Monday, shaking his head on the mound, staring off into the abyss after each of the three home runs.
Since the All-Star break, he has a 6.75 ERA.
“It’s frustrating when you feel good and you’re getting hit,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “It’s all about making pitches, making pitches to set up pitches. Especially in this ballpark. You make a mistake here, anybody can get itâ€¦ He’s a tremendous pitcher. He’s going to be fine. This was not good, obviously.”
For the Nationals’ offense, this time it was big right-hander Jeff Samardzija who was baffling them the way so many others have. In the process of losing their 64th game of the season — matching their total from all of the 2012 season — Samardzija needed only 105 pitches to complete the game.
The Nationals couldn’t fall into their trap of struggling with runners in scoring position, because they only had one at-bat the entire night with a runner in scoring.
The only Nationals batter who even touched third base was Wilson Ramos, whose eighth home run of the season sailed onto Waveland Avenue in the seventh inning.
“It’s frustrating,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who had a base hit but was removed with the rout on after six innings. “There’s really no one way to look at it to figure out why it’s happened or what’s happened.
“If we knew, it wouldn’t be happening. Baseball is a funny sport and you’ve just got to keep going out there and trying to get better and finish the season strong.”
Within the cramped confines of the visitors’ clubhouse at Wrigley Field Monday night, they shuffled quietly through their post-game meals and dressed quickly. Their season has 38 games remaining in it. In order to reach the 90-game plateau Johnson often says is a threshold for playoff teams, they’ll need to go 30-8.
“Obviously we’re going to have to make quite a run to get back into it,” Zimmerman said. “But this team is capable of doing something like that. Just go out there each day and try to win that game. If it turns out like it did tonight, you forget about it. If you win 10-1, you forget about it. It doesn’t do you anything for tomorrow.”