- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2013

Good news? Really? The Nationals completed a lost weekend Sunday, getting waxed by the Dodgers to complete a sweep in the first series after the All-Star break. They fell to two games under .500 and are within 14 losses of their total for the entire 2012 regular season.

In Sunday’s 9-2 loss, the Nats managed four hits. That two of them were home runs by Jayson Werth didn’t do much to soothe a troubled team.

But, yes, there was some good news. Jordan Zimmermann’s neck is fine. The reason for the worst outing of his career is simple. He had a very bad day.

“The neck feels awesome, just the command wasn’t there today,” Zimmermann said.

Zimmermann earned an All-Star spot with a 12-3 first half but a pain in the neck kept him from pitching in that game. He hasn’t missed a start but has felt some discomfort. The worry when he was pulled after a dreadful second inning Sunday was that something more serious might be wrong.

Nope. Just a very, very bad day. The neck is fine.

“That’s the good news today,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “That was the best he’s felt in a long time. I just talked to him. He feels like the long rest, he didn’t have his command. Wasn’t as sharp. But he said that was the best he’s felt in quite a while.”

Clearly, though, the pain-free neck didn’t help Zimmermann get his 13th victory in his third try at it. He left two runners on base in the first. He did not get out of the second as easily. When it ended, the Dodgers had a 7-0 lead. They had six hits in the second, two of them home runs. Matt Kemp, in his first game back off the disabled list, hit for half the cycle in the second alone with a home run and a double.

“After my last start, I took a few days off from no throwing to give this neck a little break and that might have something to do with it, but overall today I felt the best I’ve felt in a long time and just the command wasn’t quite there,” Zimmermann said. “All my misses that I left over the plate got hit hard today.

“It’s weird. Sometimes it’s like that. 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.”

The Dodgers are hot right now, having now won 20 of their past 25 games. The Nats are not hot, struggling to score like almost never before. Facing a two-run deficit is monumental. Seven runs? That’s Mount Everest like for the Nats right now.

Zimmermann did not return for the third inning. Ross Ohlendorf came on to pitch six innings and allow only two more runs. Johnson said afterward Ohlendorf will start one game in Friday’s doubleheader against the Mets, so the extended work set him up for that.

“He saved the bullpen,” Johnson said.

So there’s that, too. Zimmermann’s neck is fine and the bullpen didn’t get taxed. Beyond that? Another lost day at the park in a summer that’s been filled with them.

As could be expected after being swept in a series and scoring only five runs in the process, the Nats clubhouse was a quiet, gloomy place afterward. Players are understandably tired of answering questions about when things will turn, if things will turn. Shortstop Ian Desmond, as quotable and approachable as any Nats player, politely shook off approaching interviewers.

Werth set the tone of his brief interview at the start.

“You know what, I’m not even going to entertain doom and gloom questions. I’m just not,” Werth said.

Doesn’t leave much else to discuss, actually.

Werth said he took advantage of rare mistakes by Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw to hit his home runs. He said Zimmermann has been “good since I’ve been here. He’s allowed to have one bad game.”

He also maintained his belief in the Nats, while avoiding any gloom and doom talk.

“I think at any moment this team could take off,” Werth said. “But, again, I’m really not going to get into the doom and gloom stuff because we’ve got too many games to play. I believe in this team. I said it from the beginning. We’ve got a long way to go. We’ll be fine.”

• Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@washingtontimes.com.

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