Ryan Zimmerman made it known that he enjoys playing behind the young right-hander. The third baseman likes the fact that Zimmermann takes his profession seriously.
"He's special, and he gets it," Zimmerman said. "He is a competitor. He gets out there and he works quickly and he throws strikes. It's a treat to play behind him. He is going to be here a long time. ... I think he takes a lot of pride in his job. It's hard to find guys like that. He handles himself real well. It's going to be fun to play with him for a long time."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who has seen his share of great pitchers over the years, was impressed with Zimmermann.
"That is a real, real good-looking pitcher," La Russa said. "I don't even want to say good-looking young pitcher. He's very impressive. Right now, we've got a little something going and he made a few mistakes, but he was very impressive. He was special. This young man has a real chance."
Zimmermann, on the other hand, was not impressed with his outing. All five runs he gave up in 5 2/3 innings came via the long ball.
The Cardinals played home run derby on Zimmermann early. In the first, Albert Pujols took a 3-1 pitch and hit the ball over the left-field wall for his ninth home run of the season. The plan was to walk Pujols, with Zimmermann plotting to throw the ball on the outside part of the plate -- but the pitch was belt high.
"I didn't get too frustrated -- I just got back on the mound and went after the next guy," Zimmermann said.
Three innings later, after Pujols added a double, Chris Duncan hit a two-run jack to give St. Louis a 3-0 lead. In the sixth inning, Ryan Ludwick clubbed a two-run home run.
"I didn't make quality pitches when I had guys 0-2, 1-2, 2-2," Zimmermann said. "I just left a couple of sliders over the middle. It should have been in the dirt, but they made me pay for it."
Cardinals right-hander Todd Wellemeyer had his way with Washington until the seventh inning, when Willie Harris hit a two-run homer on a 3-2 pitch. Wellemeyer pitched seven innings and gave up two runs on six hits.
"He made good pitches," Zimmerman said. "We hit a couple of balls right at people. You have to give him credit. He made the pitches when he needed them. That's what [opposing starters] have been doing all year."
The Nationals had other opportunities to score runs in the fourth and eighth innings. With Wellemeyer on the mound in the fourth, Elijah Dukes led off with a double. Jesus Flores followed hit a ground ball to shortstop Tyler Green, who noticed that Dukes was on his way to third base. Green threw to third baseman Joe Thurston, who tagged Dukes out.
This is not the first time Dukes has been thrown out after a groundball is hit in front of him. It's common sense that the runner stays put at second.
"We talk to everybody, not only to him. There is plenty of coaching," Acta said. "You have to understand -- he is young and he has a lot of potential, but he is not a finished product yet. That's what happens with young players."
With Jason Motte on the mound in the eighth inning, Washington had runners on first and second with one out, Adam Dunn struck out and Dukes flew out to center field.
"We did have a couple of opportunities to score and get into the ballgame. We just couldn't get anything going offensively," Acta said.