Learning to break out of such bondage is part of pitching maturity. Manager Davey Johnson thinks that both Game 4 starter Ross Detwiler and Zimmermann are making good progress in changing their patterns, but still become predictable.
“He didn’t really make a lot of adjustments out there. He stayed one way — hard away — to a good fastball-hitting club,” Johnson said. “You have to use both sides of the plate. And he didn’t use his slider early on.”
In a four-run second inning, he threw 20 fastballs, three curves and only three sliders, his trademark out pitch. Zimmermann went into a duel and voluntarily fired more blanks than bullets.
“It happens to the best, like Mike Mussina [in Baltimore] for a while,” Johnson said. “Teams study every pitch. They figure out the pattern.”
The Cards are a right-handed-heavy lineup and Zimmermann has “reverse splits,” meaning that he pitches slightly more effectively against left-handers than right-handers. Also, Zimmermann lacks a change-up that he trusts, so the Cards, who seem to breed fastball hunters, are never thrown off stride.
Despite such analysis, part of the problem is just that the Cards have a bunch of boppers who think Zimmermann’s 96-mph fastball looks like a beach ball. The Reds and Giants don’t. It’s part of your baseball fate.
Only one pitcher who’ll take the mound the rest of this series has excellent numbers against St. Louis: Gio Gonzalez. The Cards have seen him twice recently and been shut out on five hits, then gotten one hit in five innings. Not one Cardinal takes decent hacks off him. When Gio throws strikes, he owns ’em.
“We’re in good shape. We took care of business here,” Jayson Werth said. “You work all year to get home-field advantage and now we have it.”
The battle simply resumes on Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Nationals Park after a rout that has become typical of these teams. In the last six weeks, the Nats have thumped the Cards by scores of 8-1 and 10-0 and lost 10-4 and 12-2 before this latest crunching. In 2011, when the Cards were world champs, the Nats’ gaudiest win of the year was 10-0 over St. Louis in D.C.
“But all the lopsided games that went our way were in Washington,” Werth said. “All of theirs were here.”
Beware reading too much into one-sided games in a division series. Last year, all four series went five games. In all four, the winning team was outscored. Why? They lost the blowouts, but won the close games.
“We completed our mission — split on the road,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “Now, we go home and take it.”
These teams are so close you couldn’t slide a sheet of newspaper between them. Nine times in the last 40 days, they’ve met, all the games vital. Here, the Cards have won 3 of 5 by a total score of 40-19. But in D.C., the Nats took 3 of 4 by 31-14. Overall, it’s Nats, 5 to 4.
Who owns whom? We’ll find out soon.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.