The San Francisco Giants right-hander hasn't won back-to-back starts in two months or defeated the Nationals in four years, a pair of streaks Lincecum could end Tuesday night as he tries to shut down a red-hot lineup.
The opener of this three-game set in Washington is the first matchup of the season between the current owners of the NL's two best records. They meet again Aug. 13-15 in San Francisco.
The only games Lincecum won all season going into his outing Wednesday were consecutive starts April 23 and 28 versus the Mets and San Diego. He halted that drought and played a part in the Giants' run of 36 consecutive scoreless innings - the team's longest streak since moving to San Francisco - by pitching seven frames in a 3-0 victory over the Dodgers.
The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner tied a season high with eight strikeouts, having also done so five days earlier as he gave up three runs and three hits over six innings in a 5-4 victory at Oakland.
Those performances have given the West-leading Giants (45-35) optimism that Lincecum (3-8, 5.60 ERA) has put behind a career-worst, 10-game winless stretch in which he went 0-6 with a 6.23 ERA.
"He carried himself with so much more confidence the last couple of outings," manager Bruce Bochy told the team's website. "The confidence factor is so important. He realized how good he is."
Lincecum, though, is 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA in four games versus the Nationals since his lone victory against them June 6, 2008. His first time facing them this season doesn't appear to be coming at an ideal time considering Washington is hitting .345 with 13 homers in its last six games, averaging 8.5 runs.
The Nationals (45-32) went 4-2 in that span to cap a 10-game road trip, ending it with a 3 1/2-game division lead over the second-place New York Mets .
Ryan Zimmerman continued his hot hitting by going 3 for 5 with a home run and a season-high four RBIs in an 8-4 win over Atlanta on Sunday.
The third baseman is batting .378 with three homers and 13 RBIs over his last eight games following a 4-for-40 slump. He's hit .346 in his last 14 matchups with San Francisco but is 1 for 7 all-time against Lincecum.
"I think I'm healthier than I was before," said Zimmerman, who was hitting .218 with three homers and 22 RBIs before his hot streak. "You have a few good games in a row and your confidence gets going, and that's the name of the game. We've got to get some confidence, build momentum and just roll with it."
Ian Desmond also is rolling, batting .440 in the last six games with two homers, seven doubles and seven RBIs.
The Nationals hope their hot hitting carries over for Jordan Zimmermann (4-6, 2.77), who received some much-needed run support Wednesday to post his first win since May 22.
The right-hander gave up one run in seven innings of an 11-5 victory at Colorado after going 0-2 with a 3.66 ERA over his previous five outings. Zimmermann got three runs or fewer from his teammates in each of those starts.
He didn't need much help to beat the Giants last season, going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two matchups. The right-hander gave up two runs over six innings in a 5-2 victory at Washington on May 1, 2011.
The Nationals won three of four during that series after losing eight of the 10 previous matchups in the nation's capital.
|San Francisco Giants|
|June 26, 2012||Shane Loux||15-Day DL||Strained neck|
|June 14, 2012||Aubrey Huff||Day-to-Day||Sprained right knee|
|June 11, 2012||Aubrey Huff||15-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
|June 07, 2012||Melky Cabrera||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right hamstring|
|June 02, 2012||Santiago Casilla||Day-to-Day||Bruised knee|
|May 16, 2012||Melky Cabrera||Day-to-Day||Left toe|
|June 30, 2012||Stephen Strasburg||Day-to-Day||Left game - heat exhaustion|
|June 24, 2012||Xavier Nady||15-Day DL||Right wrist tendinitis|
|June 17, 2012||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Oblique soreness|
|June 11, 2012||Roger Bernadina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained right hamstring|
|June 10, 2012||Bryce Harper||Day-to-Day||Sore back|
|June 06, 2012||Henry Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Strained right index finger|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wow. The Washington Nationals have scored a bunch of runs for Jordan Zimmermann in back-to-back starts. They must really be serious about this first-place thing they've got going.
Tim Lincecum also has something serious happening. His ERA is over 6.00 after one of the worst games of his career.
All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond hit his 14th home run Tuesday night, and the Nationals became the latest team to beat up on Lincecum, pounding the struggling right-hander early and often in a 9-3 victory.
Zimmermann (5-6) is finally learning what it's like to pitch with a comfortable lead. He went a rain-shortened six innings to win at home for the first time since last August.
"It's nice. They're starting to come around and score early," Zimmermann said, "and give you a little room to breathe out there."
Zimmermann has gone at least six innings in every game this season and leads the team with 14 quality starts, but the NL East leaders are only 9-7 when he pitches.
The tide has turned in his last two starts, an 11-5 win over Colorado to go with Tuesday's knockout of the Giants. He had been winless in his last eight starts at National Park, with his team giving him a combined 10 runs of support while he was in the game.
"He's obviously the bulldog of our staff," Desmond said. "That's what kind of hurts when you don't score runs for him."
The Nationals have started hitting the ball better overall in the last few games, sustaining the momentum from that offensive spree in the thin air of the Rocky Mountains. Combine that with a pitching staff that leads the majors in gobs of categories, and it makes Washington look quite formidable.
"If they keep hitting the way they're hitting now, I don't see why we can't just run away with this in the second half," Zimmermann said. "If we keep pitching the way we are, it's going to be tough to beat us."
The Giants scored a pair on Zimmermann in the fifth, but it took a summer storm to send him to the showers. He was on the mound when rain started to fall in the seventh inning and was replaced by reliever Ryan Mattheus after an 85-minute delay.
Lincecum (3-9), by contrast, looked very beatable, allowing eight runs and nine hits in 3 1-3 innings. Seven runs were earned, making it the worst start ERA-wise in his major league career. The two-time Cy Young Award winner had started to look his old self again in his previous two starts, but Tuesday's effort in the heat and humidity - it was 94 degrees at first pitch - ballooned his ERA to 6.08.
"I think it's just coming here and dealing with the heat - it's not like it's anything different than what we've dealt with - it just got the better of me today a little bit," Lincecum said. "They made me work and made me pay for it."
Lincecum gave up two in the second, three in the third and three in the fourth. Every player in the Nationals starting lineup had at least one hit except catcher Jesus Flores , with even Zimmermann contributing an RBI double in the second inning.
"Obviously it's easy to look at what happened today and think I took a step back," Lincecum said. "I think that's where I've been wrong, just looking at all the negatives, and whether or not it was a step forward or a step back as opposed to where I can go from here. Yes, it's a bad outing, but the next outing has nothing to do with today."
Desmond had the biggest hit, a two-run shot to left field in the third. He had already topped his best power season in the majors, and now he's surpassed the 13 homers he hit with Single-A Potomac in 2007. He is also 9 for 12 lifetime against Lincecum.
"Whatever it is, I wish I could see it off every pitcher," Desmond said. "I think I kind of just rise to the occasion every time I face him. ... He gets my blood going a little bit."
NOTES: The teams have an 11:05 a.m. first pitch for the Fourth of July. Someone with a sense of humor added a 6 a.m. batting practice to the schedule written on the whiteboard in the Nationals clubhouse. ... The Nationals placed RHP Chien-Ming Wang on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hip after he complained of pain during a bullpen session. RHP Henry Rodriguez was reinstated - spoiling dinner reservations he had made with his wife. "I'm running around trying to find Henry," manager Davey Johnson said. "He looked disappointed." Rodriguez, who went on the DL on June 7 after slamming his right index finger in a bathroom door, came on in the ninth to retire the game's final batter.
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP