The Washington Nationals are last in the National League East for the first time since June 14. They descended to this low point after losing 11-2 to the Florida Marlins Tuesday night in front of 24,650 on a relatively pleasant night (in meteorological terms, anyway) at Nationals Park. The loss is the seventh the Nats have suffered in their ten games since the All-Star break and this particular performance should choke out whatever life was left in any hope that Washington could make a surprise run up the National League Wild Card standings. It is true that the Nationals only have the sixth-worst record in the National League and are still only four games under .500 (49-53 after Tuesday night), but if their recent run of form is any guide, the relatively fertile period of mid-June has turned out to be a mirage and the club is regressing dangerously.
The tone for the evening was set by starter Jordan Zimmermann, who gave up a triple to the second batter of the game, Omar Infante. The Florida second baseman went on to score on an RBI groundout by Greg Dobbs, the first of five runs that Dobbs would drive in over the course of the evening. Zimmermann has been very, very good throughout this season for the Nationals, but he was off tonight, particularly in the first five innings. He was leaving far too many of his pitches up in the strike zone, and the Marlins treated his offerings with the contempt they deserved, banging out seven hits in the first five innings, with four going for extra bases. Even more disconcerting were the two hit batsmen on Zimmermann’s record, as many as he’d hit all season entering Tuesday night. Arguably the biggest moment in the game came with two out in the third inning, when Zimmermann hit Hanley Ramirez with an 0-1 fastball with the score already 2-0 in Florida’s favor after Zimmermann had coaxed a 4-6-3 double play out of Dobbs, with Emilio Bonifacio crossing the plate in the process. Two pitches to Logan Morrison later, the Nationals were behind 4-0 and Morrison was circling the bases after depositing his 16th home run of the season into the Nationals bullpen.
In fairness to Zimmermann, he has now pitched 126.2 innings this season, by far the most in his major league career, and with his much-noted 160-inning limit fast-approaching, it would not be in the least surprising to either see more outings like this one or to see him handled much more gently and with a much shorter leash.
The Nationals offense, true to usual form, was about as exciting to watch as molasses. They recorded 12 outs before Laynce Nix cracked the club’s first hit since the first inning of Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Dodgers, turning on a low and inside fastball and looping it into the right-field bullpen to make the score 5-1. The only time the Nationals came close to stirring the crowd’s collective pulse came in the bottom of the sixth inning, when Ryan Zimmerman singled off the glove of the diving Ramirez and was chased home by a Michael Morse double. That brought up Jayson Werth, who had struck out on three pitches in the second and weakly waved at a pitch a foot off the plate to get out in the fourth. This time, he made solid contact with the ball, but it went straight into the glove of Ramirez and the threat died when Nix was caught looking.
The final flourish on the evening was the performance of Henry Rodriguez, who started the top of the ninth inning with the Nationals trailing 6-2 and allowed the following: a home run, a walk, a single, a walk to load the bases, a two-run single to make it 9-2 Florida, an RBI groundout to make the score 10-2, and a walk to Morrison after having him behind in the count 0-2. That broke the patience of Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who power-walked to the mound to bring in Ryan Mattheus and told reporters after the game that he was nearing his “boiling point.” Based on his team’s performance Tuesday night, it’s hard not to empathize with him.
Nats Get Gomes For Two Prospects
Moments before the start of Tuesday night’s game, the Nationals announced that they had acquired outfielder Jonny Gomes and cash considerations from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for minor league outfielder Bill Rinehart and minor league pitcher Chris Manno. Gomes, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2001 and broke into the big leagues two years later, is hitting .211 with a .336 on-base percentage and a .735 OPS. The 30-year-old Gomes is only under contract through the end of this season, and is owed $1.75 million in salary, some of which will be picked up by Cincinnati, according to Adam Kilgore. Gomes will report to Washington in time for Wednesday’s game against Florida.
Gomes is expected to platoon with Laynce Nix in left field and get starts against left-handed pitchers. Gomes has a .976 OPS against lefties this season. The fact that Washington’s bench needed boosting was dramatically illustrated in the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s game when the first batter Davey Johnson pulled off the bench was the light-hitting Alex Cora (.288 on-base percentae, .561 slugging percentage). A corresponding roster move will be made by the Nationals on Wednesday when Gomes arrives. The logical move would seem to be to DFA 43-year-old Matt Stairs, who has an on-base percentage of .257 in 74 plate appearances this season.