Zambrano's Arm, Bat Power Cubs' 3-1 Victory
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Jim Riggleman spoke in his measured cadence and tried to find a word to sum up his feelings about the Washington Nationals' latest display of offensive futility. Disappointed, perhaps, or maybe frustrated.
"I can remember thinking I don't even want to use those words," Riggleman said. "It projects negative stuff."
But the second night of Riggleman's tenure as Washington's interim manager did not look much better than the first. The Nationals continued to look helpless at the plate and lost, 3-1, last night to the Chicago Cubs before a crowd of 27,581 at Nationals Park.
"I felt like we played good baseball for nine innings tonight," Riggleman said, striking a positive tone after another sputtering performance. "To me good baseball is good baseball. Sometimes you don't hit good or you don't pitch good, but you do a lot of things good. You play the game well."
Riggleman added, "Again, the final score is the only thing that matters."
Washington struck out 12 times, went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position and scored its only run on a walk. Although the Nationals (26-63) loaded the bases in the first inning, they failed to flex any offensive power against Chicago starter Carlos Zambrano (6-4), who rebounded to keep Washington at bay for the remainder of his outing. He gave up four hits and no earned runs with six strikeouts and four walks in five innings.
There were two bright spots, in particular, for Washington. Center fielder Nyjer Morgan continued his hot play since joining the Nationals, going 3 for 5 and providing a spark on the base paths. And Washington's maligned bullpen didn't give away the lead -- but that was because the Nationals did not have a late advantage to waste.
The Cubs (45-43), meanwhile, scored their first runs with a flourish, off the bat of a not-so-unlikely source in the second inning. Zambrano, who has hit his share of home runs over Wrigley Field's ivy-covered walls, drove a hanging curveball for a two-run double. Zambrano was batting .238 for his career entering last night's game.
"I try to treat them just like a regular hitter and pitch them the same way instead of just grooving fastballs in there," Craig Stammen, the Nationals' starter, said of sweet-swinging pitchers like Zambrano. "I left a curveball that didn't break as much as I wanted it to, and he put a good swing on it and got a hit."
In the third inning, Chicago added another tally just as emphatically. Aramis Ramírez blasted his fifth home run of the season on a low fastball. He sent the pitch over the wall in left field, and then he held a pose for a moment as he admired his handiwork before dropping his bat.
Stammen (2-5) was not particularly crisp, but he battled in tough spots and faced the minimum three batters in three innings.
Those mistakes in the second and third innings ended up making the difference. Over six innings, Stammen allowed three runs on six hits with two strikeouts and one walk.