Nationals right-handed pitcher Jordan Zimmermann has not looked like himself in recent starts. He gave up eight hits and walked two in just five innings on Aug. 20 against Atlanta, a game his team still won 5-4. He gave up three runs in five innings last Saturday against Philadelphia and walked three batters. Nothing terrible there, just not the usual consistency his teammates have come to expect.

But Saturday’s 10-9 loss to St. Louis was an honest-to-goodness debacle for Zimmermann. He allowed a career-high eight runs on eight hits and was knocked from the game after just 3 2/3 innings. He allowed two home runs in a game for the first time this season and a bases-clearing double in the sixth by rookie Matt Carpenter.

Zimmermann is now up to 164 innings pitched, surpassing last year’s career-high of 161 1/3. Of course, he was shut down when he reached that mark last season at the end of August to protect his arm after Tommy John surgery in 2009. But both Zimmermann and manager Davey Johnson insist that he isn’t tiring at this stage of the season and he isn’t suffering from any arm fatigue.

“No, I’m trying to do the same things I’ve been doing all year and when it was going good I felt like I could go out there and throw anything and it’d be a strike or a ground ball,” Zimmermann said. “I’m trying to do the same thing I’ve been doing all year and they’re just putting the ball in play and hitting the ball hard right now.”

Of course, Zimmermann did have an injection in his shoulder last month and had one of his starts pushed back a day. Not a huge deal, maybe. But something that bore watching.

“No. No. No. He’s fine,” Johnson said. “The ball’s coming out of his hand good. He actually said the shoulder problem he had earlier is getting better and better. He’s almost back to feeling great.”

But he’s not there yet and that left Zimmermann feeling frustrated after this one. He left almost all of his pitches up in the strike zone against St. Louis, including his slider. That’s definitely not supposed to happen. On one sequence against David Freese, Zimmermann thought he had a called strike three on a nice curve ball. But he didn’t get the call and Freese was waiting for another one on the next pitch. He reached out and still pulled it over the wall in right field for a home run. It was that kind of day.

“Sometimes [Zimmermann] was having a little problem with the mound, he was flying a little bit open,” Johnson said. “He left the ball up, couldn’t get it down. Even his sliders were up. Just felt like he was gonna make some adjustments and he never could make any adjustments.”

Zimmermann wouldn’t use the extra day of rest as an excuse. He sometimes comes out too string in those cases, according to Johnson. He did admit he’s been pulling off his pitches a little too soon and allowing the ball to slide back over the plate against right-handed batters. That’s a problem bullpen sessions between starts were meant to solve and he’ll get to work on it Tuesday.

“I felt the way I normally feel. [But] twenty-five pitches in the first inning,” Zimmerman said. “The offense did a great job. You got to tip your cap to those guys. They give you six runs and you do all you can to keep your team in the game and you can’t hold it down. This loss is totally my fault.”

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