The Washington Nationals ended their homestand with a defeat in strange fashion. But they'll have the luxury of turning to the dominant Jordan Zimmermann as they try to start off their West Coast swing on the right foot.
Washington begins a 10-game road trip against NL West foes Monday night with the first of three against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Nationals' five-game winning streak came to a halt Saturday with an 8-2 loss to the Cubs, then has their 2-1 defeat to Chicago Sunday decided bizarrely.
Kurt Suzuki's throw struck the bat of Welington Castillo during Chicago's ninth-inning double-steal attempt, buying enough time for Alfonso Soriano to come around and score the go-ahead run.
"That's the first time I have ever done something like that, let alone saw it," Suzuki said. "It's one of those things where, a freak thing happens like that."
Washington (20-17) was 3 for 19 with runners in scoring position in the back-to-back losses, a 1-for-9 effort Sunday spoiling Gio Gonzalez's seven shutout innings. Bryce Harper returned to the lineup Sunday after missing two straight following surgery on an ingrown toenail, though he was 0 for 2 with two walks. Harper is 4 for 35 (.114) over his last 11 games with one homer and one double during that slump.
Zimmermann (6-1, 1.59 ERA) gets the ball looking to become the majors' first seven-game winner. He's given up just one run, 10 hits and three walks in 24 innings in winning his last three starts.
The right-hander is walking a career-low 1.59 batters per nine innings, though his strikeouts are also at a career-low 6.0 per nine. Zimmermann seems to be sacrificing strikeouts in favor of efficiency - he's getting through innings with an average of just 13.3 pitches.
He didn't win his seventh game last year until July 18, his 19th start.
"This year, more than any other year, he is throwing a lot more breaking balls for strikes," teammate Tyler Clippard told the team's official website. "He is throwing their timing off. On top of that, he is locating."
The Dodgers (15-21) come in on a better note, following an eight-game skid with two home wins in a row over the Marlins.
"Once you've lost eight in a row, it doesn't sound like much to win a series," manager Don Mattingly said. "But it's a start. That's the way it feels."
Matt Kemp had two singles to extend his hitting streak to 11 games, during which he's 15 for 46 (.326), and Scott Van Slyke tagged his third career home run two days after being recalled from Triple-A.
Los Angeles will start Josh Beckett (0-4, 5.13 ERA), who is without a victory in his first seven starts of a season for the first time in his 13-year career.
He's 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 16 starts against the Nationals/Expos franchise but only one of those outings has come since 2005. He gave up four runs and five hits over 7 1-3 innings in a 7-6 victory on Sept. 19, 2012.
Zimmermann limited the Dodgers to one run over six innings in a 3-1 Washington win in the first half of a doubleheader earlier that day.
The Nationals were 8-8 on the road against the NL West last season but were swept in Los Angeles. The Dodgers have won 17 of 20 in the series at Chavez Ravine since 2006.