Friday night's game in Milwaukee — an 8-4 loss to the Brewers — won't go down as one of the more memorable games of the season. It was another frustrating loss to a struggling opponent, and it continued the Nationals' downward trend. They've now lost 11 of their last 14, leaving them a precarious 31-30 overall and now 1 1/2 games behind the Mets in the NL East.
Here are some thoughts and observations on this latest loss...
JORDAN ZIMMERMANN REALLY STRUGGLED
This was something we rarely have seen over the years: Zimmermann laboring to this extent, unable to complete four innings and unable to keep his pitch count from spiraling out of control.
Zimmermann threw a whopping 88 pitches in only 3 1/3 innings, a massive total by his standards. Consider: He once threw a complete game on 91 pitches. In fact, only four times previously had the right-hander thrown more than 26.4 pitches per inning (his rate on Friday).
Now, this might have been a completely different story had Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon been able to turn a first-inning double play. Had they done so, Zimmermann would've been out of the inning on nine pitches. Instead, he didn't retreat to the dugout until his pitch count sat at 31 and two Brewers had crossed the plate.
Then again, we've all been critical of pitchers who don't pick up their teammates after a defensive mistake. Zimmermann had opportunities to make the Desmond/Rendon miscommunication moot. Instead, he followed that play by giving up a single to Adam Lind and a double to Aramis Ramirez. Then he gave up a pair of singles and another RBI double to Ramirez in the third. And then he gave up three more hits in the fourth before getting unceremoniously yanked by his manager mid-inning.
Zimmermann has been better before, and he needed to be better on Friday night.
Not that he's alone in this department. Nationals starters have now completed seven innings only once in their last 14 games. Is it any wonder they're 3-11 during that stretch?
BRYCE HARPER IS HITTING A LOT OF SOLO HOMERS
First, the good news: Harper launched his 21st home run of the season with an impressive clout to right-center leading off the top of the second.
Now, the bad news: Fourteen of Harper's 21 homers this season (including all of his last seven) have come with the bases empty. That feels like a hefty percentage of solo shots, especially over the last few weeks.
Harper has actually taken just about the same number of at-bats this season with the bases empty as he has with runners on. But it sure feels like that hasn't been the case lately, perhaps attributable to the absence of Jayson Werth and the delayed start to the season of Anthony Rendon.
Look, Harper can't control how often he bats with men on base. All he can do is take what is being given to him, and he certainly has done a masterful job of that so far this season. But the Nats can try to get more production out of the guys batting directly in front of Harper, trying to maximize the opportunities he does get.
DAVID CARPENTER HAD A NICE DEBUT
It didn't exactly come in a situation of consequence — down four runs in the eighth — but Carpenter impressed in his first-ever relief appearance with the Nationals.
Acquired from the Yankees on Thursday for minor-league infielder Tony Renda, Carpenter offered a glimpse of what made him intriguing to the Nats. He retired the side on 15 pitches, 12 of them strikes. He showed good command of a 95-96 mph fastball. And he went right after the first three hitters in Milwaukee's lineup: Jonathan Lucroy, Gerardo Parra and Ryan Braun.
One mop-up appearance, of course, doesn't tell us everything we need to know. But if Carpenter can take that same approach when he pitches late in close ballgames, he'll become an important contributor to a Nationals bullpen that needs more of those right now.