The Nationals saw their first no hitter yesterday, thanks to a truly outstanding performance by Jordan Zimmermann. It was the first for the franchise since 1991 when El Presidente threw a perfect game. It wasn’t the first by a Washington team, however. Walter Johnson threw a no hitter in 1920 and Bobby Burke did in 1931.
Washington had been no hit quite a few times, although the current Nationals incarnation was never a victim. Some of the more famous ones include a no hitter by Hall of Famer Vic Willis. Born in Cecil County, MD, raised in Newark, DE, you might call Willis pretty local. Apparently, his no hitter included a bad hop grounder that could have gone either way, but was scored as an error.
Another more famous one involved another Marylander – Babe Ruth. In 1917, the greatest player ever started a game against the Senators and walked the first batter. He argued with the umpire and then got tossed from the game. Ernie Shore came in to pitch for him, and was perfect. But because there was a baserunner, this is a “shared” no hitter, rather than a perfect game for Shore.
Zimmermann’s no hitter was special in it’s own right. September 28th is a pretty good date to pitch a no hitter – there have been seven others on that date, including Allie Reynolds throwing his second of 1951, Nolan Ryan throwing one in 1974 for the Angels, and Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers and two others combining for one in 1975. It was also the date of the Union Association Brewers beating the UA Washington Nationals in 1884 with one.
And he faced off against Henderson Alvarez, who threw a no hitter last year – on September 29, 2013. Throwing a no hitter against a guy who owns one himself is probably pretty rare, although somewhat unbelievably it had already happened this year. Josh Beckett threw a no hitter on May 25 against AJ Burnett, who owns one of my favorite no nos of all time – a seven strikeout, NINE walk performance (this is also known as an Edwin Jackson).
As for the details of the pitching, Jordan Zimmermann threw his fastball 73 times, which in 104 pitches is 70% of the time, right in line with his season stats (70.23%). His slider and his curve were also right in line with his season averages. He doesn’t really use his curveball very much, throwing it 8% of the time this year. Yesterday he threw 104 pitches, and only 8 were curves, so he didn’t exactly up the count there.
But he didn’t even throw it before the 4th inning, and it he must have liked it, because he ended up throwing it quite a bit towards the end of the game. The PitchFX data shows that there was a difference in this pitch, compared to the normal curve he throws. The H-Break, was measured at 7.83 inches, whereas his average curve this season was only 5.60. From what I understand, there is some built-in discrepancy with these measurements thanks to changes in release points and the measuring process, but this change was significantly bigger than the change in fastball and slider movement, suggesting his curve was moving more than usual.
He must have noticed this, because it became his out pitch. Of the eight times he threw his curve, six were on two strike counts. And four of those times worked for a strikeout. He only had 21 Ks off his curve before the no hitter this year, or around 12% of his Ks. Over the last three seasons it was 15%. Today it was 40%. You can bet he’ll be trying that pitch out on a few 2 strike counts in the playoffs. Especially when hitters look like this:
JZimm's ridiculous curve to strike out Jones – he reached on the passed ball https://t.co/EVugXtpz62
— Nationals Review (@nationalsreview) September 29, 2014
It wasn’t a noticeably special defensive game for the team, other than Steven Souza‘s incredible catch to end the game. The defensive positioning, however, was great (except on that Souza play). Three line drives in the fifth were hit right at guys, and two of them could have easily been hits. But what was odd about it wasn’t the positioning, but the substitutions.
Matt Williams was giving his starters half days, in essence. So he replaced Anthony Rendon with Kevin Frandsen in the fourth inning. He caught the first ball hit in the fourth, then a hard liner in the fifth. Matt replaced Adam LaRoche with Tyler Moore in the fifth, who caught a liner right at him on the first ball hit in the inning. Danny Espinosa went in for Ian Desmond in the fifth as well, and he caught a liner to end the inning. Jeff Kobernus came in for Asdrubal Cabrera in the sixth, and a grounder was hit to him. Michael Taylor entered the game in the 8th and caught a ball in the ninth.
And then, of course, the managerial move of the season for Williams. In the 9th, Souza came in for new-to-outfield Ryan Zimmerman and proceeded to make the play of the year. It was weird how the ball found these guys, but it did.
Now I wasn’t able to watch the game, I listened to Charlie and Dave call it from the car. Hearing the call was great, but of course I had to rewatch it. So I did. Below is my recap of the game, highlighting what I saw…
Christian Yelich leads off the game with an epic 10 pitch at bat. But despite the ability to stay alive, JZimm is throwing strikes when he wants to, and he is consistently hitting 95 on the fastball. Yelich hits the ball well, a sinking liner to right that Harper is able to catch up with and snare. Donavan Solano follows with another well-hit ball in the SS/3B hole that Desmond grabs moving back towards the OF grass, which he then throws high to LaRoche, who just has to lift his heel off the bag before coming down in plenty of time. JZimm then gets a strikeout of McGee with a nasty 0-2 slider.
He pops Garrett Jones up to Rendon at third quickly, before getting Reed Johnson to pop up to LaRoche. Justin Bour strikes out on three straight fastballs.
This is where it just starts getting unfair. He throws a fastball to J.T. Realmuto, which is swung at for a strike. Then two sliders low and away for balls, followed by another foul. So he throws a slider inside the catches the plate for strike three. Adeiny Hechavarria somehow doesn’t get hit by a pitch way inside, before missing on a fastball the Bob accurately says overmatched him. Henderson Alvarez grounds out on the first pitch he saw.
He gets Yelich to pop up to Kevin Frandsen at third before Bob and FP have time to explain that Rendon was given the rest of the day off. After a few fastballs he pulls out his first curveball of the game to get Solano swinging, and he likes it. He will use it again later. McGehee flies out to right on the first pitch. Bob’s comment before going to commercial is “hmmmm.”
More starters resting, as Scott Hairston is now in right field. JZimm starts Jones off with a curve, then throws him a fastball that Jones hits hard, but right at Tyler Moore, who just came in to play first. Perhaps the hardest hit ball of the game to that point, until the next AB when Johnson rockets one to Frandsen. Frandsen has to move a little to catch it, both of those are base hits if they’re placed differently by a foot or two, but they weren’t, so… they not.
JZimm then walks Bour and looks like he had some trouble locating his fastball. Realmuto then hits another liner at another fielder, this time Danny Espinosa at short, and the inning is over. This inning did not have pretty pitching, although the results are beautiful. By far Jordan’s worst inning of the day, everyone has to be thinking that he’s starting to tire out, and the no hitter is pretty unlikely. But they’re also really starting to think about it.
FP and Bob haven’t said it’s a no hitter, but Bob noted the Marlins’ side of the scoreboard says “0-0-0” and their only baserunner came from a walk. JZimm gets Hechavarria on a high 0-2 fastball for the 6th K of the game. Alvarez then grounded out to second base, where Jeff Kobernus just came in the game. Four pitches later he got Yelich to ground out near first base, which Jordan ran over and picked up himself and touched the bag. He followed a rough looking but succesful fifth was a great sixth. And he was only at 68 pitches – 51 of them for strikes.
Another curve in the dirt struck out Solano, he tried to get McGehee on one, who didn’t chase in an 0-2 count. So the next pitch he struck out McGehee with an unhittable 93 mph fastball low and away. He then got Jones on 3 pitches, another curve as the out pitch, but the ball went bouncing away so Jones reached on the dropped third strike. Two pitches later, Ramos picked Jones off leaning at first and the inning was over. To the batters who finished their ABs, Jordan threw 10 pitches, got three strikeouts, two of them on curveballs. If his sixth inning was great, his seventh is dominant. FP’s “palms are sweaty” but nobody is really talking about what’s going on.
Jordan Zimmerman comes back for the eight inning after singling in the seventh. Yes, that’s right, Jordan has more hits than the Marlins do. Reed Johnson has the hardest hit ball of the inning when he fouls one into the Nats dugout. Werth shakes it out and someone in the dugout can be heard saying “MASN Dan, you alright?” Johnson flies out to pretty deep LF but it’s a routine out, and JZimm then feeds Bour five straight fastballs. The last one turns into what should be a pretty easy foul popup to Frandsen but he has to run pretty far thanks to the shift. He gets there, and once again gets someone looking silly swinging at the curveball for strike three, this time it’s J.D. Realmuto. Again. The crowd give Jordan a standing O, and FP interrupts the moment to say something about how his stomach feels.
The Nats were kind enough to go down quickly in the ninth, and that included Ryan Zimmerman. Matt Williams replaces him with Steven Souza, who probably won’t make a difference in this game at all amiright? Bob makes the point the Wilson Ramos is the only starter besides Jordan that’s still in the game, but because of the game he’s calling, he isn’t coming out.
JZimm starts Hechavarria off with a slider on the outside corner that’s called a strike. It was close, and it probably got Hechavarria into swing at anything mode. This is just what Jordan wanted, and he follows him up with another slider. It’s not at all in the zone, but Hechavarria gets enough of it to ground out weakly to second base. Two outs left.
Up steps Saltalamacchia to bat for the pitcher. He has probably heard gruesome tales of the curveball for strike three, or how JZimm can get his slider to move in any direction he wants. So while he’s wary of the fastball, he’s probably waiting for that other trick stuff. Sitting on the bench all day, that’s what he’s hearing about. Which is probably why he swung so late on the 2-1 pitch to even the count. That was followed up by a high fastball, the fifth fastball in a row, that Salty was able to catch up with to fly out to Michael Taylor, waiting for it in front of the warning track in center. Hard hit, but not a hard catch to make. One out left.
The crowd stands up for Yelich’s AB, and Jordan starts him off with a juicy looking fastball, right down the middle of the plate. The next fastball was a little high and a little outside, JZimm doesn’t get the call. Next pitch is a curve that is quite possibly a strike, but it moves so much the ump doesn’t give him the call. And then, on a fastball, Yelich gets it. It wasn’t the best hit of the day, to be honest. It was so far from a fielder because of the way they were positioned. They had to run a long way to get there. And it didn’t look like they had any shot at it, but five-tool prospect (clearly fielding is one of them) makes an incredible catch to end it, and Jordan Zimmermann and the Nats have their first no hitter.
No single image from that catch does it justice, so I’ll just show you this before we move on.
Ok so we really don’t have to move on.
Ok, now that we’ve got that out of our systems. It was an incredible catch, and should be given it’s due.
There’s this great view of it as well.
This Vine of Souza's no-hitter saving catch is just spectacular. https://t.co/NfkeGGigEB
— Dan Kolko (@masnKolko) September 28, 2014
And of course, while everyone who was watching thought it was a no doubt hit for Yelich, Jordan undoubtedly thought the same thing. Watch him look to the sky exasperated then celebrate
Zimm thought he lost it https://t.co/0QFAWe9Uqa
— Half St Heart Blog (@HalfStreetHeart) September 28, 2014