For so much of the first half of the season, Jordan Zimmermann was the stopper for the Washington Nationals. The ace of a staff despite being the least-experienced member of the crew, Zimmermann took the mound seven different times before the All-Star break following a loss.
On five of those occasions, he delivered a win. On the other two, Zimmermann held his opponent to two runs or fewer and was tagged as the hard-luck loser.
Since the break, though, it’s been nothing like that for the Nationals’ 25-year-old as he works toward his 160-innings limit. Coming off his worst outing of the season last week in Houston, Zimmermann followed it up with a second dud Tuesday night, surrendering two homers and six earned runs to the Florida Marlins in an 11-2 drubbing that dropped the Nationals back into last place in the National League East for the first time since June 14.
It was the Nationals’ seventh loss in the last 10 games, a disappointing mark for one of the hottest teams in baseball heading into the All-Star break just two weeks ago. Of those seven losses, only two have come by more than two runs.
“I see us as too good to have any extended losing streaks,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, whose own record at the helm dropped to 9-15. “I keep waiting for everything to kind of gel a little bit. It’s not sitting well with me. I have a high boiling point, and I’m getting closer to it.
“I know we’re a better ballclub than we’ve shown at times. … It’s painful for everybody in this clubhouse.”
Tuesday night, Zimmermann allowed eight hits in 6 2/3 innings, but two of them were home runs. After hitting Hanley Ramirez with a pitch in the third inning, Logan Morrison followed it up with a two-run homer to give the Marlins a 4-0 lead. Greg Dobbs added another run to the Marlins’ lead with a home run in the fifth. Dobbs went 3-for-5 with five RBI in the game.
“I gave up that run in the first and I guess maybe I was just thinking about how that happened,” Zimmermann said. “Maybe I was thinking too much out there instead of just putting that behind me and going after the next hitter.
“I’ve just got to pick up the pace a little bit. … I felt strong. I made a couple bad pitches and gave up a couple home runs. The runs really add up when you give up homers when guys are on base.”
It also didn’t help that Ricky Nolasco no-hit the Nationals until Laynce Nix’s solo home run to leadoff the fifth inning. The Nats managed three hits all night.
Zimmermann moved to within 33 1/3 innings of his innings cap with Tuesday’s outing and seemed to get sharper as the game went on. Henry Rodriguez, however, ensured that the Nationals — 28-18 at home heading into this homestand — would not stage any type of late-game heroics when he entered to pitch the top of the ninth and allowed five earned runs in one-third of an inning.
As the Nationals continue their downward spiral, there’s a prevailing sense that they’re underachieving, starting with the offense but including the regression of some of their pitching, which has been a strong suit for so much of the first half.
“Sure there is [a sense we’re better than we’ve shown],” Nix said. “We’ve had good stretches where we’ve played really well and that wasn’t a fluke. We’re going to do that again and we could easily get on another 10-, 12-game win streak. The makeup of this club, I think, is such that this can happen.”