Zimmermann, Nationals get blown out again

Zimmermann, Nationals get blown out again
August 20, 2013, 12:30 am
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DeJesus glad to be a Washington National

CHICAGO — Jordan Zimmermann insists he feels fine. There's nothing wrong with his arm, and the 95 mph fastballs he threw Monday night would seem to confirm that. And the right-hander says his neck, a problem earlier this summer, isn't an issue right now.

So, what are we to make of Zimmermann's performance over the last six weeks? After serving as a punching bag for the Cubs' previously punch-less lineup during an 11-1 blowout loss, the one-time ace of the Nationals staff finds himself in a legitimate, long-term funk.

On July 1, Zimmermann was named an All-Star for the first time in his career. He sported an 11-3 record, a 2.28 ERA and an 0.94 WHIP, all of which ranked among the NL's best. In eight starts since, Zimmermann is now 3-4 with a 5.30 ERA and 1.59 WHIP.

If he's fine physically, how does he explain the last six weeks?

"Just pretty much location," Zimmermann said. "I'm not hitting my spots right now. The fastball's up. I've got to do a better job of locating."

The Nationals need to do a better job of a lot of things right now. They did almost nothing right on Monday, from Zimmermann's ragged five innings, to a lineup that produced one extra-base hit all night against Jeff Samardzija, to a bullpen that let things really get out of control late, leading to the Nats' seventh loss this season by nine or more runs.

That's something that happened only twice last season when the Nationals cruised to their first NL East title. Very little about this season, of course, has resembled the previous one. And the only numbers necessary to prove that can be found in the loss column. The 2013 Nationals have now lost 64 times in 124 games, matching their total from all of 2012.

"As I've said all along, I like the talent we have," manager Davey Johnson said. "But some of them have slow learning curves, and we're not as consistent as we should be. We have a few glitches with the pitching staff occasionally, but I still like this ballclub. Tomorrow's another day."

True, but there are fewer and fewer tomorrows left. Only 38 games remain on the schedule. The Nationals would need to go 30-8 to reach the 90-win plateau. And that wouldn't even guarantee a postseason berth, not with five other NL clubs currently on pace for at least 92 wins.

On Monday afternoon, after acquiring veteran outfielder David DeJesus in a waiver trade from the Cubs, general manager Mike Rizzo was adamant there's still hope for his team.

"We're going to take this thing one game at a time, but I certainly haven't given up on this season," Rizzo said. "I think that with the talent level that we have on this ballclub that we still have a run left in us."

Problem is, the Nationals have been hoping for that kind of run for 4 1/2 months now, and they've yet to experience one. And with all kinds of flaws at the moment, there's little reason to believe they can put it all together in the next six weeks.

"It's frustrating," Ryan Zimmerman said. "But there's really no one way to look at it to figure out why it's happened or what's happened. Because if we knew, it wouldn't be happening. Baseball is a funny sport. You just gotta keep going out there and trying to get better and finish the season strong."