The Nationals lineup has suffered through a well-documented stretch of futility in recent weeks, but on Sunday there were glimpses of hope. They struck for three runs off eight hits against the Cubs, representing a sign of progress given just how bad they have been lately.
Three runs is a step in the right direction, but not enough to give their pitchers any sort of breathing room. Combined with rough outings for both Jordan Zimmermann and reliever Blake Treinen, the result was another loss, the Nats' eighth defeat in their last 10 games.
Zimmermann struggled from the start and gave up four runs over five innings with 12 Cubs batters having reached base on 10 hits and two walks. Zimmermann took the loss and broke a streak of nine consecutive quality starts along the way.
"I just wasn’t locating. I was leaving the balls over the middle. My breaking pitches were terrible. It’s gonna happen when you don’t have all your pitches. I just wasn’t sharp today," he said.
Zimmermann was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth inning after throwing 92 pitches. It was the first time in 10 starts that Zimmermann did not last at least until the sixth.
The loss broke Zimmermann out of what was his best stretch of the season - three earned runs in his previous four outings - but the veteran right-hander was happy to limit the damage in several innings that could have turned the game into a blowout.
"Every inning I had guys on base. Just working out of jams all day. It should’ve been a lot worse than it was. I guess I can take that out of it. 12 base runners in five innings and they only got four runs which was halfway decent," he said.
Zimmermann left with the Nationals down 4-2 and Washington cut the lead to one in the bottom of the fifth. But Treinen made matters worse by allowing two runs in the sixth inning.
Treinen retired the first two batters he faced before giving up two runs on a sequence that included three walks (one intentional), a double, an RBI single and a wild pitch that brought home Anthony Rizzo.
Treinen has had an up-and-down season and now holds a 4.60 ERA through 23 appearances on the year.
"I lost the ball up for Rizzo to hit down the line. Then I didn't make pitches afterwards that compounded the issue. It ended up costing us," he said.
"It's pretty obviously frustrating, I think. I think [the bullpen is] better than what the public eye may perceive and we know that. Especially myself, I need to be better and more consistent."
The Nationals have an assortment of issues to work through during their eight-game road trip which begins on Tuesday against the New York Yankees. Runs are coming at a premium and their pitching has been inconsistent across the board.
Matt Williams shrugged off the outings of both Zimmermann and Treinen as he looked ahead to New York.
"Get the lead, keep the lead, that's the plan. So we need to start doing a little more of that," he said.