Nats offense unable to lift Zimmermann's strong start

Right-hander allows two runs -- one earned -- over eight solid frames

Nats offense unable to lift Zimmermann's strong start

SAN DIEGO -- Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann and left-hander Eric Stults found themselves in a pitchers' duel on Saturday evening at Petco Park. When it was over, Stults and the Padres won the battle, 2-1.

The game was tied at 1 when the Padres went ahead in the bottom of the eighth inning on a single by Everth Cabrera. Alexi Amarista reached first base after hitting into a force play. He then advanced to second on a throwing error by Zimmermann on a failed pickoff attempt.

Cabrera then made the right-hander pay with a single to center field, scoring Amarista.

"The throwing error that I made is what cost us," Zimmermann said. "If I don't make that [error], we would still be playing."

Zimmermann threw his third complete game of the season, allowing two runs on seven hits. He threw only 85 pitches and was ready to pitch the ninth inning had Washington tied the score.

"[Zimmermann] was efficient," Padres manager Bud Black said. "... I thought that today, more than what we've seen on video, that the changeup came more into play, especially early in the count. That was something we didn't project. But he's a bulldog."

The Padres scored the first run in the second inning, when Yonder Alonso swung at a 1-0 pitch and hit the ball over the right-field wall for his fifth home run of the season.

After that, Zimmermann allowed six singles the rest of the way. One of the hits came in the seventh inning. The Padres had runners on first and second with two outs, when Chirs Denorfia hit the ball deep in the hole at shortstop. Ian Desmond had no chance to get Denorfia at first, but Desmond's instincts told him to throw to Ryan Zimmerman at third base. Chase Headley ran past third and was caught in a rundown and was tagged out by catcher Kurt Suzuki.

"When the ball is in the hole like that, sometimes Ian will come to third for the force," Zimmerman said. "That was really the only play we had. So, it's one of those things where I'm hoping he throws over there. Luckily we were kind of thinking on the same page."

What bothered Nationals manager Davey Johnson the most was the way his team swung the bats. It had a game plan before the game, which was wait for the fastball. But it seemed the players swung at almost anything Stults threw at the plate.

"[Zimmermann] swung the bat better than the rest of the guys in the lineup," Johnson said. "It's a waste we couldn't pull that one out. That's a tough loss

"We are not hitting very smart. We are swinging at his changeups around the knees or in the dirt. We are not making him throw the ball over there. It's inexperience with the hitters at times. You have to be more patient. We are still growing as an offense. Some guys just need to be a little more patient and not try to hit the pitcher's pitch. That's all the problems all year offensively."

Stults was outstanding, pitching eight innings and allowing one run. He had a no-hitter through five innings, but Suzuki broke it up with a single to right field an inning later. He would later score on a single by Steve Lombardozzi to tie the score at 1. But Lombardozzi was caught trying to steal second base a few minutes later.

According to Johnson, Lombardozzi missed the sign that indicated he wasn't supposed to attempt to steal second base.

"He mis-read the sign," Johnson said.

The Nationals had a chance to tie the score in the ninth inning against closer Huston Street. Lombardozzi led off with a walk and represented the tying run. Zimmerman came to the plate and worked the count to 3-2 before he struck out and Lombardozzi was caught trying to steal second base.

"I have my best hitter up there, 3-2 count. I expected us to put it in play and stay out of the double play. [Zimmerman] swung through the ball," Johnson said. "I'll do it every time. We are not doing what we are capable of doing offensively."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.