ST. LOUIS — Jordan Zimmermann sat at his locker inside the visitor’s clubhouse at Busch Stadium, ice around his right shoulder and elbow. The Washington Nationals right-hander had co-authored a gem Friday night with St. Louis Cardinals starter Lance Lynn, allowing just three hits in eight innings while Lynn yielded but two.
The difference: A change-up by Zimmermann that hung over the plate and was swatted by burly Cardinals slugger Matt Adams 419 feet to center for the game’s only run.
“They were one pitch better than we were,” Manager Matt Williams said.
The game clocked in at 2 hours 3 minutes — the fastest in the majors this season. Zimmermann (5-3) was as dazzling as he was efficient, inducing 15 groundouts and throwing only 76 pitches over eight innings against a team that had long had his number.
Lynn, meanwhile, brought the Nationals’ red-hot offense to a screeching halt. He had a no-hitter working with one out in the sixth until Jose Lobaton singled. Jayson Werth had the only other Nationals hit, a single to center in the seventh that was erased when Adam LaRoche hit into a double play.
After winning 10 of 12, the Nationals have dropped two in a row and have fallen back into a first-place tie with the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. During this stretch, they have been carried by their strong pitching and offense. Only one of those showed up Friday.
“It’s tough,” Zimmermann said. “But tomorrow is another day.”
Lynn, who came in with a 6.23 ERA against the Nationals, shut down the Washington offense with pinpoint command and a hard sinking fastball. He struck out eight and induced five groundouts. The Nationals entered the game outscoring their opponents 71-28 in the previous 13 games.
“In the past against us, he’s struggled with command a little bit,” LaRoche said. “I don’t know that he walked anyone [Friday]. He just had it. He had it with two or three different pitches, spotting in and out. You look back, and we were basically 1-and-2 every at-bat. Seemed like we were trying to fight back. It was more defensive at-bats than we typically have.”
Zimmermann, who became the first pitcher in Nationals history to throw back-to-back complete games, has allowed only one run and walked two over 25 innings this month.
Since 2011, the Nationals have 15 complete games, and Zimmermann has seven of them — three of which he has lost. Friday’s pitch count also set the mark for the fewest pitches in a regulation complete game in Nationals history, eclipsing his own 85-pitch eight-inning complete game loss May 18, 2013, against the San Diego Padres.
“I threw a lot of strikes, and they knew that,” Zimmermann said. “They were coming up hacking. I was locating the fastball. Got a lot groundballs, and guys played great defense and turned a couple double plays, which was great.”
No team has caused Zimmermann more fits in his career than the Cardinals. Entering Friday’s game, the right-hander had made seven starts against the Cardinals and had a 7.03 ERA. In his lone playoff start against them in 2012, Zimmermann was also rocked by the Cardinals.
Zimmermann’s scoreless innings streak reached 19 before it was snapped in the second inning by Adams.
Beyond that blip, Zimmermann played to his strengths by locating his pitches and pitching to contact. But with Zimmermann’s lone mistake and an offense unable to produce anything against Lynn, the Nationals retreated to the dugout as losers again against a familiar nemesis.
The clubhouse was dead silent following the game. Zimmermann sat at his locker thumbing through his cellphone. Bullpen coach Matt LeCroy walked by and offered a fist bump. Teammates smacked Zimmermann on the back as he walked by.
“I’m sure everybody in here, offensively, will go up and say something to him at some point,” LaRoche said. “He understands it though. It sucks. [Try to] push a run or two across and can’t do it. The guy goes out and does what he did, and it’s frustrating.”