Jordan Zimmermann At His Peak - We have watched Jordan Zimmermann grow up, from an underrated draft pick out of the University of Wisconsin Stevens-Point, to the Nats sole pitching prospect in an era when there wasn’t much to look forward to. We were there when he went through Tommy John surgery, and we’ve seen him recover in remarkable fashion to the tune of two All-Star nods. Perhaps most importantly, we have seen him reach the top of the mountain in a game where so many never make it. Jordan Zimmermann took the mound last night at the age of 28 at the top of the game, making his first 2014 postseason start after the best outing of his career (a no-hitter), during his best season of his career, and he left having made perhaps the best October outing anyone possibly could. Jordan Zimmermann has done more for this team in 2014 than you could ask any starting pitcher to do for any franchise, and the club let him down.
Zimmermann for the second consecutive start here at Nats park was immaculate. He pitched 8 2/3rds innings, allowing just three hits, and one fateful walk. He relied heavily on his fastball, throwing it 85% of the time, but he used it to pound the zone. Of his 85 fastballs, 61 were strikes. 10 induced whiffs by the Giants batters, and while 17 fastballs were put into play, only one was a hit. He neutralized the opposition the way he has all season long, the Nats just needed to put runs on the board.
The Decision To Pull Jordan Zimmermann - Zimmermann had retired 20 straight Giants hitters before allowing a (questionable) walk to Joe Panik in the top of the 9th last night. With ball four, he had reached 100 pitches, and with the tying run on base and two outs Matt Williams pulled the right hander to bring in his closer, Drew Storen. Had Storen retired Buster Posey or Pablo Sandoval, there would be no second guessing this decision, however with the Nats’ closer blowing the save, people are asking if it was the right decision.
There are two ways you can choose to look at this. One is that they should have kept Zimmermann in to complete what he started. In his last 18.2 innings pitched, he had allowed three hits, no earned runs, just one walk, and struck out 17. He was the hottest pitcher in baseball, and arguably the hottest a pitcher could possibly be. He had mowed down the Giants, allowing just one base runner in 21 batters, and he has the history of showing that he has the guts to record a final out when needed. On the other side, Drew Storen has been electric since the club made him the closer this year. You were in a situation where if it were the regular season, it might be nice to keep Zimmermann in to allow him to battle for the complete game shutout, but in a realistic postseason situation where you are down one game, you need to bring in the guy whose job it is to shut the door, especially when he is fresh.
While I wouldn’t have second-guessed Williams leaving in Zimmermann to complete what he started, I feel he did make the right move in bringing in the closer. Unfortunately as fate would have it, that closer went on to add to his spotty past in the postseason.
Drew Storen As The Nationals’ Closer - What is there to say? Drew Storen was absolutely terrible last night. Matt Williams gave him the ultimate bid of confidence, bringing him in with the game on the line, taking out their best pitcher to do so. As stated above, that was the right move. You go to your guy, that’s why he is your closer and you have to have confidence he will finish the game…now, after second consecutive playoff blown save, you have to wonder whether Storen can still be that guy for this team.
Storen needed one out. He threw three pitches. One was a hard hit foul ball. The other two were smashed line drives, one by Buster Posey to move Panik to second base, and one was the roped double that resulted in Posey being called out at home plate after the tying run scored. The only out Storen recorded, was from a relay play at the plate, where he very well could have been ruled safe. In his last two post-season save opportunities, he has allowed five hits, five earned runs, two walks, and recorded just four outs in two blown saves. Now facing an 0-2 deficit, if the Nats enter the ninth with a lead again, you have to wonder if they can trust bringing him in.
Asdrubal Cabrera’s Ejection - Cabrera was ejected after arguing two high strike calls in the bottom of the 10th inning. You can see the debacle here. Cabrera was visibly upset with the strike two call, which appeared to be at the top of the zone but called very, very late by 35-year-old umpire Vic Carapazza. When the next pitch in a similar spot was called for strike three, Cabrera completely lost it and was immediately ejected. While it was good to see at least some passion from this club, the ejection was short sided and really showed how much the Nats have been pressing to score runs. Was Cabrera upset about the call? Sure. However I’m willing to bet that his inability to get on base in a situation where the season was on the line played a large role in why he was so passionately upset.
The biggest downside of the ejection here though, was that Cabrera was not in the lineup for the rest of the 18 inning game. While Danny Espinosa made some great plays defensively in his place, offensively he was a black hole. Those at bats could have been taken by Cabrera, and if they had, the team had a better chance of winning last night.
Matt Williams’ Ejection - Some were upset that Williams was ejected last night after going out to defend Cabrera. I’m not. This team has been playing flat for two games, and I’m sure Williams felt that he needed to show that he was willing to fight for his team, even if the rest of the team wasn’t fighting for themselves yet. Some may say the manager needs to help his team gather composure there, and usually I would agree, but sometimes a manager needs to light a spark. While that may not have happened in the ensuing eight innings, I think Williams made the right choice to go out swinging.