The Nationals offense had extreme difficulty solving veteran right-hander Zack Greinke, who carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning Thursday night as the Diamondbacks opened the series with a rain-delayed 5-0 shutout.
Jarrod Dyson smacked a two-run shot and Alex Avila added a solo homer as the D-backs went after right-hander Erick Fedde, building a 5-0 lead over four innings.
Greinke (8-2) retired the first 10 batters he faced, mixing his fastball and slider. He hit Adam Eaton with a pitch in the fourth to give the Nationals their only base runner in the first six innings. That opportunity was quickly erased on a double play off the bat of the Nats’ next batter and best hitter, Anthony Rendon. Greinke caught his line drive and fired to first base to double up Eaton to end the inning.
“He’s hitting his spots with everything,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “His changeup was really good. Threw some curveballs that were really good. Fastball command was really, really good. So, when he’s like that and he’s got two points on the board early, you got to battle, and we hit some balls good.”
Trailing 5-0 in the seventh, the Nationals finally got a leadoff infield single by Trea Turner to end the no-hit bid.
D-backs first baseman Christian Walker nabbed Turner’s hot shot, but could not transfer the ball quickly enough from his glove for the throw to Greinke covering first base, and the runner was safe. Eaton followed with a clean single to left field and the Nats had two men on with no one out.
But Greinke got Rendon to ground into another double play, this time 6-4-3, and Juan Soto grounded back to the pitcher to end the threat. It was the only time in the game the Nats managed to get a runner as far as third base.
A 2-0 deficit - or even a 3-0 hole, which the Nationals faced after the Avila blast - has not seemed insurmountable for these Nats recently. The club was averaging 6.4 runs per game during their 12-5 hot streak.
But the 2009 Cy Young winner was potent because he was able to spot his four-seam fastball all over the strike zone - to left- and right-handed hitters - notching called third strikes to Gerardo Parra and Brian Dozier. This set the tone for a long night for the Nationals offense.
“I think we kind of knew he was, obviously, going to try to do that,” Turner said of Greinke’s ability to hit spots. “It was a matter of whether he can or not, but I think the only thing that the question was (with) such a low pitch count, do you take the first pitch or do you be aggressive? What do you do?
“For me in all three at-bats, first pitch was the best pitch to hit for me. I only swung, I believe, one time, but that’s kind of the battle we had today ... Do you try to be aggressive off a guy who is doing exactly what he wants to, or do you try to be patient? I don’t know. I guess do the opposite of whatever we did today because he was pretty good.”
Fedde (1-1) struggled from the start. Dyson led off the game with a double. Fedde then walked Ketel Marte and David Peralta to load the bases with no outs in the first. An Adam Jones groundout to Rendon scored a run, and Eduardo Escobar followed with an RBI single. The D-backs were off with a 2-0 lead.
“Not the best first inning,” Fedde admitted. “Felt fine. Just made a bad pitch to Dyson that got things going and tried to be too fine there to get out of the inning, and it backfired a little.”
Martinez said Fedde was asking about some close calls from home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez after the two walks in the first inning.
“Sometimes you start the game and you start nitpicking and stuff,” Martinez said. “He thought some of those pitches were close, but I told him ‘Regardless of what you think, they’re balls. So, you’ve got to get to that next pitch and move on.’”
The game was delayed by rain in the eighth inning for an hour and three minutes. Greinke was then replaced by reliever Yoshihisa Hirano when play resumed. The five-time All-Star’s line was impressive: 7 1/3 shutout innings, two hits, no walks, one hit batter and three strikeouts. Greinke only had to throw 75 pitches, 54 for strikes, to record 22 outs.
Matt Grace tossed two scoreless innings for the Nats, and one big bright spot in the bullpen was the pitching of right-hander Trevor Rosenthal. The right-hander, recently back from the injured list after a brutal start to the season, delivered a 1-2-3 ninth inning. It included two strikeouts, one with his slider, the other with his 98 mph fastball.
“It was a good night,” Rosenthal said. “I felt good with my command and trying to pitch an inning. I’m definitely happy with how it went tonight.”
But the Nationals are now 6-17 in series openers, including 2-9 in home series openers. The Diamondbacks have won seven of their last eight games. And with Atlanta’s win over Pittsburgh 6-5, the Nats are 8 1/2 games back in the National League East. They need to take advantage of these 11 straight games at home, and this was not the start they wanted. After the loss, Turner said his focus is always on the next game.
“I think, for me, it’s every day,” Turner said. “I think that’s why baseball is hard. Anybody can beat anybody on any day if you’re not prepared. We’re trying to climb out of a little bit of a hole. I think every day matters, so got to get ready tomorrow. We’re going to face another good pitcher tomorrow, so start there and we’ll see how it goes.”