Some Sunday morning leftovers to get you warmed up before Game 2 of the National League Division Series finally is played at 1:08 p.m. ...
After a season full of strikeouts and hard-hit balls right at defenders, Zimmerman looked like a completely different guy at the plate in this game. He went 2-for-4, with singles leaving his bat with exit velocities of 101 and 113 mph. His fly out to right field in the fifth inning left his bat at 102 mph. His eighth-inning fly out to left field reached the warning track.
“That’s all you can do, try to hit the ball hard,” he said after the game. “If you start getting frustrated or worrying about things like that, that will drive you crazy. I thought I had a really good approach tonight. Hit three balls hard off Clayton (Kershaw) and then just missed the slider off of (Pedro) Baez there. I feel good. Hopefully I can carry that into tomorrow and hopefully for a lot more games this month.”
Zimmerman, of course, became far more important to the Nationals’ chances after Wilson Ramos tore his ACL during the final week of the regular season. With Ramos out, Zimmerman moved up to the sixth spot in Dusty Baker’s lineup, a prime position to bat with runners in scoring position.
“It was real good,” Baker said of Zimmerman’s approach in Game 1. “He was being aggressive. He’s seeing the ball well, and it’s right on time. We anticipate more of that tomorrow, you know, during the game. And he just missed two home runs, one to right and one to left. And so, that’s a great sign, when he’s hitting the ball like that.”
* It got lost in the shuffle Friday night, but Baker used his bullpen in a particularly interesting way. Or, at least, a different way than we’ve seen from him all season.
After Max Scherzer was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the sixth, Baker turned to Sammy Solis for the top of the seventh. Solis, making his first career postseason appearance, wound up pitching two full innings, helping keep the deficit at 4-3.
Then Mark Melancon came in to pitch the top of the ninth, even with the Nationals down a run. The All-Star closer never pitches in those situations during the regular season, but Baker felt it was important to use Melancon in a spot just like this now that the calendar has shifted to October.
“We wanted to hold the game where it was,” Baker explained. “Because we knew they had (closer Kenley) Jansen in there, and the chances of you scoring two or three runs off him isn’t real good. So last night was a situation where we wanted to keep the score where it was, to give us an opportunity and a chance.”
Baker fully recognizes the postseason is different, and you can’t use players the same way you use them in-season.
* Though Saturday’s rainout - can we call it a rainout if it really didn’t rain all that much? - won’t alter either team’s rotation plans for the next couple of days, it absolutely could impact things if this turns into a long series.
The Game 2 (Tanner Roark vs. Rich Hill) and Game 3 (Gio Gonzalez vs. Kenta Maeda) matchups won’t change. But both managers are going to have to look at a potential Game 4 differently now. Both Game 1 starters (Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw) would be available to pitch on three days’ rest if needed, but the loss of the off-day in between Games 2 and 3 means neither Roark nor Hill could start a potential Game 5 on normal four days’ rest.
Which means Game 4 almost certainly will feature a matchup of Joe Ross and Julio Urias, no matter which club is facing elimination. And that means if there’s a do-or-die Game 5 back here in D.C. on Thursday, a Scherzer-Kershaw rematch is all but assured.