The Washington Nationals just can't seem to get on track. Not coincidentally, the same can be said for their hitting and pitching.
Washington is struggling to stay in contention with 12 losses in 18 games. A 4-3 defeat in 11 innings Saturday dropped the Nationals two games below .500 for the first time since Sept. 27, 2011.
Washington (29-31) has scored 14 runs in the past seven contests, and it has a 4.34 ERA in the last 18 after posting a 3.29 ERA in the first 42 games.
"It's very frustrating," manager Davey Johnson said. "It's getting my dander up. We're better than this."
Zimmermann (8-3, 2.16 ERA) bounced back from what was easily his worst outing of the season, a 9-6 loss to Baltimore on May 29 in which he allowed seven runs in six innings, by giving up two runs - none earned - in eight innings of a 3-2 win over the New York Mets on Tuesday.
The right-hander almost didn't get enough run support to extend his streak of 17 home starts without a loss. The Nationals, though, scored twice in the ninth for a 3-2 win.
"It's just one of those things, it's hard to explain, I guess," Zimmermann told the team's official website. "I've been pitching pretty good at home and I feel like I've been pitching good on the road, too. ... I don't know, it's kind of crazy just to have that many starts and be doing so well and I've obviously been getting good run support at home and been pitching pretty decent."
Zimmermann, who has a 1.23 ERA in six home outings, will now face a team that's won eight of 11. In his first start against the Twins, he'll oppose Scott Diamond (4-4, 4.66), who is coming off one of his best outings of the season.
The left-hander gave up four hits and a walk over six innings in his first victory in five starts, a 10-0 win over Seattle last Sunday.
Samuel Deduno (2-1, 3.44) will take the ball in the nightcap for Minnesota (27-31). The right-hander has allowed one run over 13 innings in winning back-to-back starts. He pitched six-plus innings in a 3-0 victory over Kansas City on Tuesday.
"I've got a lot more confidence, and everything was working," Deduno said.
Like Diamond, Deduno will make his first start against Washington. The Nationals' Nate Karns will oppose him in his third career start.
Karns (0-1, 6.00), one of the Nationals' top prospects, hasn't gotten past the fifth inning in his first two outings. He gave up four runs over 4 1-3 in losing 6-3 to Atlanta last Sunday.
"I'm leaving pitches over the plate and sometimes I'm putting myself in a fastball count," Karns told the team's website. "These guys don't miss. A little bit of better quality hitters on top of poorly placed pitches. I've just got to stop doing that and I'll have a better chance of getting a 'W' for this team."
Ryan Doumit , who drove in the winning run Saturday, has recorded at least a hit in 10 of his last 11 games, going 15 for 47 (.319) with five home runs, three doubles and 16 RBIs."He's been swinging the bat really good and we had some opportunities," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Doumit has batted .400 with 12 RBIs in his last 13 games against Washington. He's never faced Zimmermann or Karns.
|June 01, 2013||Justin Morneau||Day-to-Day||Illness|
|May 29, 2013||Trevor Plouffe||15-Day DL||Strained left calf|
|May 26, 2013||Wilkin Ramirez||7-Day DL||Head injury|
|May 23, 2013||Pedro Florimon||Day-to-Day||Left game - sprained right index finger|
|May 22, 2013||Trevor Plouffe||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|May 22, 2013||Trevor Plouffe||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|June 03, 2013||Danny Espinosa||15-Day DL||Broken bone in right wrist|
|June 01, 2013||Stephen Strasburg||15-Day DL||Strained right latissimus dorsi|
|May 31, 2013||Stephen Strasburg||Day-to-Day||Strained right lat|
|May 27, 2013||Bryce Harper||15-Day DL||Left knee bursitis|
|May 26, 2013||Bryce Harper||Day-to-Day||Left game - Sore left knee|
|May 24, 2013||Danny Espinosa||Day-to-Day||Broken bone in right wrist|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The day began with manager Davey Johnson calling a team meeting in which he appealed for more aggression at the plate and mistook his starting pitcher's heat pad for a neck brace.
It ended with the Washington Nationals accomplishing something they hadn't done all season - coming from three runs down to win a ballgame.
The Nationals swept a day-night doubleheader from the Minnesota Twins on Sunday, climbing back to .500 and showing signs of an offensive breakthrough by pounding out a combined 24 hits in the 7-0 opener and 5-4 nightcap.
"I don't know if I've ever played a doubleheader," said shortstop Ian Desmond , "where you pretty much had to win both."
That sums up the angst that was spreading among the preseason NL East favorite Nationals, even though there are still 100 games to go before the finish line of the regular season.
"It's good to get back to .500 - and get on with it," Johnson said.
Desmond doubled home the go-ahead run in the seventh inning of the second game after Jordan Zimmermann dominated the opener, allowing two hits over seven innings.
Zimmermann (9-3) struck out eight with a season-high 111 pitches while dropping his ERA to 2.00. He moved into a tie with Boston's Clay Buchholz , Arizona's Patrick Corbin and St. Louis' Adam Wainwright for most wins in the majors.
Zimmermann had Johnson worried before the game when the pitcher showed up for the team meeting with something on his neck. The right-hander has had a stiff neck off-and-on for a couple of weeks.
"I'm hoping he wears that neck brace every time he goes out," Johnson said. "That was a heck of a game."
Zimmermann later clarified that it was actually a heating pad, a precautionary measure after feeling some tightness a few days ago.
"I didn't want to take any chances," Zimmermann said. "So I figure heat it up and it'll be good to go."
Johnson also joked that he might have to hold more team meetings after watching his offense score five runs in the fifth inning of the first game. The Nationals had totaled just 14 runs in their previous seven games.
"I'll have it every day if we get 14 hits and seven runs, but it wasn't much of a meeting," Johnson said. "It was about three minutes or something like that. I was just cheering `em up."
Asked what he got from the meeting, second baseman Anthony Rendon said: "Swing."
"Just be aggressive," Rendon said. "That's basically what he was trying to say. Just go out there and try to hit."
And that's what they did. The Nationals scored a pair in the fourth and five in the fifth to chase starter Scott Diamond (4-5), using a lineup that had a pair of natural second basemen in the outfield - Jeff Kobernus in center, Steve Lombardozzi in left - and a converted third baseman, Rendon, at second.
Regular center fielder Denard Span missed the first game after fouling a pitch off his right foot in Saturday's 11-inning loss, but played in the nightcap. Usual left fielder Bryce Harper is on the disabled list with a sore knee and was en route for his Monday appointment with renowned specialist Dr. James Andrews.
The Nationals, who have come from two runs down to win only twice this season, climbed their way back from a 4-1 hole in the second game. They scored single runs in the first, third, fifth, sixth and seventh, with Desmond extending his hitting streak to a career-high 12 games with his double off reliever Anthony Swarzak (1-2).
"Normally, early on in the season, when we would get behind, we would just kind of fold and give away at-bats," said Span, who had an RBI triple to tie the game in the sixth. "And (tonight) we just kept fighting and having good at-bats."
Tyler Clippard (5-1) pitched the seventh to get the win, Drew Storen handled the eighth and Rafael Soriano the ninth for his 16th save.
The nightcap was played before a small crowd - it was the makeup from Friday's rainout - and was mostly a tedious game of attrition between recent Triple-A call-ups. Minnesota's Samuel Deduno labored through five innings in his fourth start since arriving from Rochester, and Washington's Nathan Karns lasted only three innings in his third start since getting a promotion from Syracuse.
Both teams wasted plenty of chances - they combined to leave 18 runners on base - and the Twins managed only two runs in the second and two in the third against Karns, who is expected to go back to Syracuse once Stephen Strasburg comes off the disabled list in a few days.
Pedro Florimon hit a two-run homer in the third for Minnesota, but more typical was Eduardo Escobar getting stranded at third after a leadoff triple in the sixth.
"Hit some balls right on the screws, seemed to go right at them," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They got a couple of big hits and ended up getting the win. Very frustrating game for us."
The Twins helped out the Nationals' cause in the first game with some flubs in the field. First baseman Justin Morneau allowed an extra run to score when he failed to come off the bag to field a late, off-target throw from Florimon, and Washington's five-run barrage in the fifth was possible because of a grounder misplayed by second baseman Brian Dozier , who somehow wasn't charged with an error.
"I know they gave it a hit, but this is the big leagues, folks," Gardenhire said. "That's an error. That's two steps to his right."
NOTES: The second game included a 12-minute rain delay. ... Minnesota CF Aaron Hicks left the nightcap with a strained left hamstring after running to first on a groundout in the fifth inning. ... Twins RHP Ryan Pressley left the first game in the seventh inning with a sore right triceps. "He should be just fine," Gardenhire said. ... Kobernus made his first major league start in the opener and got his first career hit, an infield single in the third.
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