GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The Theory of Baseball Momentum would dictate that a team that scores 16 runs on 23 hits one night would be in prime position to stay hot the next night against the exact same team. Matt Williams, though, doesn’t believe momentum exists from game-to-game, and on Wednesday night the Nationals manager sounded like he knew what he was talking about.
Only 24 hours after trouncing the Rays at Tropicana Field, the Nats were completely shut down by the same Tampa Bay club in the opener of the D.C. portion of this interleague series. This despite an unconventional pitching plan deployed by Rays manager Kevin Cash, who used reliever Steve Geltz as his starter for two innings, then turning to starter Matt Andriese for four innings out of the bullpen.
That plan worked, because the Nationals managed only two hits all night. Prior to that point, the Rays scored three runs off Jordan Zimmermann, with old pal Steven Souza Jr. and rookie Curt Casali each homering in the top of the fifth, then an Ian Desmond error helping lead to another run in the sixth.
The Rays tacked on two more runs via an ugly play in the top of the eighth, when reliever Blake Treinen foolishly tried to make a tough throw of a water-soaked baseball, then Bryce Harper made things worse firing the ball into the third-base dugout. That 2-error play allowed Souza to come all the way around to score on a Little League home run, extending the lead to 5-0 and putting a definitive stamp on this game.
HITTING LOWLIGHT: How do you go from 16 runs on 23 hits one night to zero runs on two hits the next? Well, that’s baseball. It didn’t make this any more tolerable to watch, though. The Nationals never got anything going at the plate. Bryce Harper singled with two outs in the fourth, becoming their first baserunner of the night. Ian Desmond beat out an infield single in the fifth, with Michael Taylor intentionally walked later in the inning to bring the pitcher to the plate. And then Taylor walked again in the eighth. That’s it. That’s all the Nationals did in this game
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: It’s hard to fault Zimmermann for his performance on this night. Yes, he served up the home runs to Souza and Casali in the fifth inning, but those really were his lone mistakes of the game. He would’ve been out of the sixth inning unscathed had Ian Desmond been able to start a 6-4-3 double play instead of booting the ball for his 15th error. He struck out eight while walking only one. He threw 71 of his 105 pitches for strikes, a solid rate. That’s a quality start. But on a night when his teammates couldn’t muster up anything at the plate against the Rays’ staff, a mere quality start wasn’t enough. Zimmermann would’ve had to be perfect.
KEY STAT: Steven Souza Jr. currently leads all AL rookies in homers (13), RBI (30) and total bases (96).
UP NEXT: The finale of this 4-game, 2-city series features Doug Fister’s return from the DL for the Nationals. He’ll be opposed by Rays ace Chris Archer, who is among the early season contenders for AL Cy Young.