The Nationals' 6-4 loss to the Mets last night, as I mentioned after the game, was one of the first times this year when the team's pitching staff broke down at key moments that directly contributed to a loss. The team has now lost five of six, slipping behind the surging Braves in the NL East. And the only one of those games where they got a quality start was the game they won.
It's possible the staff is going through a slump, but it's more likely that we're going to see periods of ragged work from this group, which doesn't have a starter capable of shutting a team down every time out. That's where the Nationals' offense has to pick up the slack, and even with three homers last night, they didn't do it, going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Here are last night's awards:
Wilson Ramos: After going 3-for-4 and posting the first multi-homer game of his career, Ramos made it even clearer he's the hottest hitter the Nationals have right now. Both homers were well-struck, and Ramos said he's done a better job lately of resisting the urge to pull the ball too much. Byron Kerr wrote more about his night here.
Jerry Hairston Jr.: He had a pair of infield hits, including a nice drag bunt for a hit in the seventh inning. The occasions will be rare where Hairston hits for much power, but if the Nationals are going to be without Ryan Zimmerman for a while, they at least need Hairston to get on base, and he did that a couple times on Tuesday.
Todd Coffey: The right-hander made his return to Nationals Park on Tuesday, sprinting in from the bullpen with the Ultimate Warrior's theme music blasting, and pitched well; he retired four of the five batters he faced, allowing only a walk and striking out two. After a rough start, we're starting to see where Coffey can be a help to this bullpen; he gives the Nationals a possible bridge to their late-inning relievers, and can take some of the workload off Tyler Clippard in games the team is losing.
Doug Slaten: Slaten gave up a two-run double after replacing Jordan Zimmermann in the sixth inning, and the Nationals were behind for good after that. The ball barely sliced away from Michael Morse in left field, but the fact Slaten hung a slider to Josh Thole was the big issue. He's allowed eight of 19 inherited runners to score this season, and lefties are hitting .384 against him.
Zimmermann: It wasn't that the right-hander's stuff was awful - he said he felt as good as he has on the mound all season, and manager Jim Riggleman said Zimmermann pitched a "winnable game" for the Nationals. But he gave up nine hits, and didn't have a swinging strike all night. When Zimmermann is the only pitcher on the Nationals' staff capable of missing bats, you'd like to see him stay ahead of hitters more often. Zimmermann said he's rather have ground ball outs than swinging strikeouts so he can keep his pitch count down. But being able to get hitters off-balance is part of generating weak contact, too, and Zimmermann hasn't done that his last two starts.
In Case You Missed It:
* Zimmermann said the biggest play for him was his pickoff of Jose Reyes in the fifth inning. Zimmermann made two throws over to first base, also holding the ball for a long time on the mound before stepping off the mound. On his second throw to first, Reyes flinched slightly, giving a small tip he was planning to go to second. Zimmermann's third throw to first came right when Reyes took a slight step toward second. The throw beat Reyes to the bag, even though Adam LaRoche might not have tagged him in time, and Zimmermann was able to take one of the most lethal baserunning threats in the game off the bases. It was a nice job of controlling the running game by the young starter.
* On Jayson Werth's fourth homer of the year, we saw signs of what the right fielder has been working on with hitting coach Rick Eckstein. Chris Young threw him an elevated fastball on a 3-2 pitch, and Werth stayed back on the ball until the last second, launching it to left for a homer. He'd been starting his swing a hair early at the beginning of the year, losing some power as he opened up his front side. But he did a nice job of staying square to the mound until he needed to turn, delivering a solid, compact swing for a homer.
1. Did you think it was the right decision to lift Zimmermann for Slaten in the sixth inning, considering the starter had only thrown 73 pitches, or did you think Riggleman needed to give Zimmermann more rope there? And are you worried about Slaten? Reader JCA points out his batting average on balls in play is .428, which would corroborate what the left-hander said about bad luck so far. Do you expect him to settle down, or do you think the Nationals have an issue in the bullpen?
2. Would you like to see more swings and misses from Zimmermann, or are you OK with the pitch-to-contact approach? It does help keep his pitch count down, especially in a year where he's going to be on strict limits as he comes back from