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Zimmermann leads bullpen in Game 4

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Zimmermann leads bullpen in Game 4

In an airtight, 1-1 NLDS Game 4 heading into the seventh inning, Nationals manager Davey Johnson called on unlikely arm to relieve starter Ross Detwiler.

After starting Game 2 just three days before, Jordan Zimmermann came in to make the first relief appearance of his career. Zimmermann had taken the loss on Monday after giving up five earned runs in just three innings of work.

Zimmermann had seen his fastball feasted on by the same Cardinals lineup in Monday’s game, but showed no hesitation in Game 4. He struck out the side on a total of 12 pitches with seven of them 97 mile per hour fastballs.

Zimmermann ranked third in the National League during the regular season with an average fastball velocity of 93.9, but not even Johnson had seen him throw that fast.

“He came in, and I mean, he was hyped. That's the hardest I've seen him throw all year,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Zimmermann walked up to pitching coach Steve McCatty after the seventh and told him, “I just tried to throw it as hard as I could throw it." The jump in velocity was not only seen on his fastball, but also his slider.

Zimmermann hit 91 three times with the breaking ball which some were even more impressed with.

“It was unbelievable, just a 91 mile per hour nasty slider?” Detwiler said. “That was a huge shot in the arm, the crowd went crazy after the third out.”

Johnson could only laugh.

“I mean, 91 mile an hour slider? You've got to be kidding me. That's pretty good, wasn't it?”

“Some guys in our club said, ‘That's our next closer.’  I said, ‘no way.’”

Zimmermann finished off the seventh inning, but there was more work for the Natioanls’ bullpen to do. Tyler Clippard spelled Zimmermann in the eighth and picked up right where he left off.

Clippard also got out of his inning on three strikeouts. He started with Carlos Beltran going down swinging then caught Matt Holliday looking. After a five-pitch walk to Allen Craig, he got Yadier Molina swinging on a 94 mile per hour fastball.

Clippard walked off the mound with a scream and several fist pumps, another boost of energy to the Nationals and their crowd.

Drew Storen pitched the ninth and began with two strikeouts before getting Matt Carpenter to pop up to Ian Desmond. His second strikeout was the eighth consecutive out by strikeout in total by the Nationals’ bullpen, only the 2005 Angels have matched that number in a postseason game.

Johnson said each player’s inning gave a jolt to the team.

“It was electric. It's been that way most of the year. But in both cases, the job they did was they rose to the occasion. All of them were throwing harder than I've seen them throw.”

Ryan Zimmerman acknowledged their effect on the offense and the team as a whole.

“With the way Ross threw and the way those guys threw out of the bullpen, we were like, ‘come one, we can’t afford to lose this game with the way they’ve pitched against that lineup.’ That was pretty impressive.”

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Nationals set to bring back Matt Adams

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Nationals set to bring back Matt Adams

The Nationals just checked another box.

They have reached an agreement to bring back first baseman Matt Adams, pending a physical, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed.

The deal is for one year with a mutual option in 2020.

Adams flourished last season with the Nationals when he delivered an .842 OPS with an 118 OPS-plus in 306 at-bats as a part-time player. He was crucial since Ryan Zimmerman spent the middle of the season on the disabled list.

The Nationals later flipped Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals for “cash considerations”, which made him little more than a waiver claim for St. Louis. The Nationals just saved the remainder he was owed on his contract following the Aug. 21 transaction.

Adams, a quiet professional, fit well in the clubhouse. One on-field tear earned him a T-shirt homage to his nickname: “Big City doing Big City things” that several of his teammates wore pregame.

His role will be the same as last season: insurance for Zimmerman, as well as a power left-handed bat off the bench who will receive the occasional start if Zimmerman is healthy.

Adams’ return also enables the Nationals to shop for a true second baseman as opposed to a hybrid player like Marwin Gonzalez. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has continually moved the needle from standing pat to hunting for a starting second baseman. For now, a platoon of Wilmer Difo and Howie Kendrick is in place.

The Nationals' largest gap remains in the rotation following the trade of Tanner Roark. They need to find 180 innings in a thin free agent pitching market to replace Roark’s production from the last three seasons.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported the agreement with Adams.

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Tanner Roark is out, who could be in?

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Tanner Roark is out, who could be in?

LAS VEGAS -- Let’s strip the name and take a blank taste test. Wednesday, the Nationals sent an average of 197 innings out the door. That’s 591 outs. It’s not something to shrug off.

Trading Tanner Roark for a reliever, a minor-league one at that, extracts a path to almost 600 outs. The Nationals need to find a new one. Choices to do so aren’t very enticing.

They are back in the starting pitching market because of Roark’s regression the last two seasons coupling with an increase in pay. He’s expected to earn around $10 million out of salary arbitration. The Nationals are gambling they can find equal effectiveness through another starter -- or two.

There’s money to allocate now. It’s not much for the remaining upper tier of free agents. It’s sufficient to bring in someone on a one- or two-year deal and perhaps apply to a more versatile bench piece than a straight backup at first base.

Washington made Patrick Corbin the highest-paid pitcher this offseason. He was priority one. In a vacuum, he may not be worth six years and $140 million. But not all players carry the same value with every franchise. The Nationals had a clear need for another potent starter, and preferably a left-handed one at that. They received the combination with Corbin.

The challenge for the Nationals is handling this market after Charlie Morton and Lance Lynn complicated it. Morton signed a two-year, $30 million deal with Tampa Bay. Lynn received a three-year, $30 million contract from the Texas Rangers. If the Nationals didn’t want to pay Roark $10 million, they surely don’t want to pay another pitcher something near what Morton and Lynn received, even if it allows more control. Roark was entering the last year of his contract.

Dallas Keuchel remains atop the available starters. By WAR, the next-best available pitcher is 34-year-old Anibal Sanchez. He put together what appears to be an outlier season in 2018 following three consecutive years of significant regression. Sanchez’s ERA-plus went 80, 73, 70 before spiking to 143 last season, the third-best mark of his 13-year career. Sanchez has also averaged just 138 innings pitched on average the last four years. That’s a lot of outs between the workload Roark handled and Sanchez has as he heads into his age-35 season.

Next on the list by WAR? Gio Gonzalez. Moving on.

After that? Not much inspiration. Left-hander Wade Miley pitched well in just 16 starts last season. He has a carer 4.26 ERA. Miley has not put together a strong full season since 2013.

Matt Harvey? Trevor Cahill? Clay Buchholz?

Brett Anderson? James Shields? Jason Hammel?

These are not exactly places to hang your hat.

However, the Nationals have little choice. Their solution to replace Roark’s outs will come from outside the organization. Depth at Triple-A Fresno is negligible. Options in Double-A to help the rotation now are non-existent.

They have one intriguing pitcher lurking: Henderson Alvarez. The Nationals signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

“Chance to make the team, if not, to pitch in Triple A for us,” Mike Rizzo said of his outlook on Alvarez.

Alvarez threw a no-hitter in 2013. He was an All-Star in 2014. Shoulder surgery was followed by shoulder discomfort, then another shoulder surgery. Alvarez didn’t pitch in 2016. He started three games for Philadelphia in 2017. He then pitched in the Mexican League in 2018, where he finished with 4.60 ERA in nine starts. The wildest of wild cards here.

Washington has also kept an eye on Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who is available through posting system.

Somewhere, they need to find another 180 innings.

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