Jordan Zimmermann had thrown 39 pitches through 4 innings. It took just an hour and a half to make it through six frames of baseball on Monday night. The Nationals were moving with expediency through the Arizona lineup. And then it happened. With the Nats having just retaken the lead in the bottom of the seventh, 2-1, Zimmermann was left in just one batter too many, and the tables had turned again.
Diamondbacks’ Shortstop Didi Gregorius, having a stellar night on the infield, rocketed a pitch into the bullpen and that was that for the Nats hurler. While Steve McCatty had worked to give Zimmermann’s relief time to get warm, and a baserunner provided ample opportunity for throws to first to stay the game’s progress, manager Matt Williams let Zimmermann stay out there one batter too many on Monday night.
If you had to find fault with Matt Williams’ first year as a skipper, and with the team 6 games up on the Division and 17 games over .500, you might be stretching to do so, it would be with his bullpen management. Tonight was no exception to that occasional issue, and the rest of the pen would give him reason to continue that doubt. Though Matt Thornton would retire all 3 batters he faced after relieving Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard would blow his fourth save in the ninth, and Craig Stammen would have to pitch himself out of a massive jam (self-inflicted) in the eleventh inning.
The Nats’ offense came alive late on Monday, having been silent through six innings, and facing a 1-0 deficit, relied on their power to generate some runs. In the seventh, Wilson Ramos absolutely crushed a home run to the deepest part of the park to put the Nationals up 2-1, ahead of Zimmermann’s melt down. That wouldn’t be the end of it for Washington, though, as the 1-2 combination of Span and Rendon smacked a stand-up double followed with a head-first slide triple to tie the ballgame at three. Jayson Werth would sacrifice Rendon in to give the Nats back the lead in the bottom of the eighth.
Tyler Clippard, in his first save situation in months, was doing just fine, right up until he left a fastball right down Broadway for David Peralta, who responded by clubbing the ball off the fascia in right. Clippard would recover and give up no more ground, but Nats fans can be forgiven for clutching their chests on Monday for the third straight day as the bullpen worked.
Nats fans can be doubly forgiven for pouring an extra bourbon during the top of the 11th. Craig Stammen was on in relief, and the bases ended up juiced on a pair of walks and a single. Steve McCatty sauntered to the mound to have a word with his pitcher, and whatever he said worked. Stammen got Lamb and Gregorius on gutty strikeouts, and forced a ground out from the pinch hitter Pennington.
It looked like the game was destined for more than 11 innings, as Span and Rendon were retired in order to start the bottom half, but Adam LaRoche delivered his first career walkoff in the form of a 407 foot shot off the second deck in right.
The Nats had a high-leverage night for their bullpen, and it’s the third straight day they’ve had more than just mop-up work to do. Here’s hoping that Strasburg can turn in a good night, and the bats strike early for the Nationals, giving the relief crew a bit of a respite.