Cliff Lee, much like Roy Halladay on Wednesday, was a force of nature that the Nationals just couldn’t contend with. Lee racked up 12 strikeouts in a complete game shutout of the Nationals to close out the opening series against the Phillies in front of 24,875 mostly Philadelphia fans on a perfect April evening. The Nationals had two strong chances against Lee, but managed to make a hash of both of them. Sadly, this was their night to waste a great start by Jordan Zimmermann, who was perfect through five, and went 7+ and allowed just 1 earned run, striking out 4 and walking none.
Zimmermann’s performance was the best since his return from Tommy John surgery. He was dominant over a very talented Phillies lineup through 15 batters, racking up all four Ks, and just three fly outs before giving up a 0-1 home run to Ruiz beyond the bullpen in left center. The Phillies would pick up another run on a throwing error by Jerry Hairston on a play that Ryan Zimmerman likely would’ve either made or held onto the ball, and then two more unearned runs in the 8th on a misplayed grounder by Espinosa. Defense was as cruel as the basepaths.
The Nationals offense was utterly unable to capitalize against the precision pitching of Cliff Lee. Danny Espinosa (1-3, 2B) started off the 3rd with a double off the right field wall just short of a home run, and moved up to third on an aggressive tag-up from a Jerry Hairston Jr fly-out. He was moving on contact with one out when Jordan Zimmermann hit a grounder to the left side of the infield. Jimmy Rollins fielded the ball cleanly and gunned out Espinosa at the plate with 10 feet of basepath to spare. The Nationals’ new aggressive behavior on the basepaths cost them twice tonight. After the game, Riggleman was asked about the difficult situations and said, “Every miscue we have is a miscue of aggression and effort,” speaking both about the baserunning and the often frustrating defense behind Jordan Zimmermann.
The Nationals’ only other chance came in the 5th, where Ramos (1-2, BB) lead off with a well-struck single. On the 3-2 pitch with Ramos going, Morse swung right through another of Lee’s perfectly placed pitches, and Ruiz gunned down Ramos by a step at second.
At some point, the Nationals are going to have to address Ian Desmond in the leadoff position. Tonight’s 0-4, 3K line for Desi continues his hitless streak at home, and his frustratingly OBP in one of the most critical places for the Nationals. Right now, Espinosa is making a strong case to hit first, hitting .276 with an OBP of .410. While Ramos has only played in 7 of the 11 games for the Nats, his triple slash of .455/.538/.545 is certainly hard to ignore, as well.
For now, though, look for the lineup to remain unchanged, as Jim Riggleman is hoping the team can put it together, with the guys in slumps breaking their way out on their own.
Starting tomorrow, they’ll try against the 7-5 Milwaukee Brewers, who bring back Nyjer Morgan and Wil Nieves to face their old team. First pitch from Tom Gorzelanny is at 7:05 tomorrow. Jason Marquis and Livan Hernandez round out the weekend series in 1:05 and 1:35 starts.