ANAHEIM, Calif. — Davey Johnson has spent the majority of his 68 years involved in baseball. He managed Dwight Gooden and played with Jim Palmer. He’s seen plenty of outstanding pitching in his lifetime.
And yet as Jordan Zimmermann walked off the field at Angels Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, his first major league complete game in the books, he’d thrown eight of the most impressive innings his manager had ever witnessed. Zimmermann’s effort, which was more than anyone could have asked for in trying to win the road trip’s final game, included just four hits and no earned runs.
“I’ve seen a lot of good-pitched ballgames,” Johnson said. “And I’ll tell you, that was one of the better ones I’ve ever seen.”
The way Zimmermann dominated, it seemed almost impossible that the Washington Nationals were quietly packing their bags for the long trip back to the East Coast after a 1-0 loss and a three-game sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Angels in Johnson’s inaugural series at the helm.
Turns out, the Nationals’ offensive awakening that had been present for much of June was long-awaited but short-lived when they were forced to battle both the shadows from a 4 p.m. PT start and Angels right-hander Dan Haren.
The first victim to the shadows was veteran utility man Jerry Hairston Jr., who was hit with a pitch on his right wrist in the fifth and left the field writhing in pain. X-rays showed a small break at the top of the wrist and below the base of his hand. He’ll be re-evaluated in Washington on Thursday, and he said he’d like to try to avoid the disabled list if possible.
The second victim was the rest of the offense, which managed just two hits — only one leaving the infield.
“You’ve got big-league pitchers on the mound, and it’s just, they’re good enough,” Hairston said. “The 4 o’clock start is just terrible. You can’t see the ball … and somebody’s going to get really, really hurt. He could have hit my head … It’s just terrible. The pitchers at this level are too good.”
Both teams struggled with the shadows that slowly crept over the infield from the third-base side throughout the game. But between the way Zimmermann was executing his slider and fastball — pitches he felt he could throw “whenever I wanted to and wherever I wanted to” — and Haren’s superb fastball and cutter, neither team’s hitters had much of a had a chance.
When the Angels got one, they didn’t waste it. Bobby Abreu worked a walk to begin the fourth, and Vernon Wells followed with a grounder to third. But Ryan Zimmerman’s throw to second for the forceout went wide to Danny Espinosa’s left, leaving the Angels with runners on first and third with no outs.
Zimmermann then got the double play he wanted from Howie Kendrick one batter later, but Abreu trotted home. The game’s only run was unearned because of Zimmerman’s error, his fourth in 14 games since returning from the disabled list.
“It was a tough play,” Zimmerman said. “I’m going to go to second every time. I guess it kind of ran up into the runner a little bit. Anytime you have the second baseman coming to the base and the runner coming to the base, if it’s not right [center] it’s a tough play. … It’s one of those rare plays where everything has to go right.”
It didn’t, and the Nationals fell to 40-41 at the season’s halfway point. Zimmermann (5-7) turned in his 11th consecutive quality start and lowered his ERA to 2.63. Since May 1, Zimmermann has a 1.85 ERA and has allowed more than two earned runs just once.
“That tells me we’re not scoring enough runs,” Johnson said. “We just couldn’t get it done offensively, but [Zimmermann] was the story for me. Ninety-some pitches in eight innings? That’s outstanding. They didn’t hit hardly any balls hard. Ahead in the count, ball’s down; it’s a manager’s joy to watch that kind of pitching.”