BALTIMORE -- On the night he returned to Baltimore, Davey Johnson was greeted with a little bit of rain and an enlivened Camden Yards crowd. The Orioles added some opportunistic hitting to a brilliant outing from Jason Hammel, and the former Baltimore manager saw his Nationals fall, 2-1, in front of a sold-out crowd of 45,891 on Friday night.
Johnson, who began his playing career with the Orioles in 1965 and also managed the team for two successful seasons in 1996-97, sent Jordan Zimmermann to the mound looking to build a three-game winning streak after two straight wins over the Rays snapped a four-game losing skid.
But Zimmermann's start was spoiled quickly in the second inning, when Mark Reynolds sent a 1-1 pitch deep to left field for his sixth home run of the season. The 1-0 deficit could have been even larger for the Nats, as Matt Wieters singled to lead off the inning but was nabbed at second on a double-play ball from Wilson Betemit.
"It was a fastball that was supposed to be away, and it rose up and in on him," Zimmermann said of the pitch to Reynolds.
Zimmermann's outing was solid -- he surrendered the two runs on eight hits, walking only one batter while striking out two -- but he struggled with his command on the wet, muggy night that saw rain delay the start of the game for 1 hour and 1 minute. Through the game's first six innings, Zimmermann allowed four leadoff batters to get on base.
"I didn't have the best stuff tonight, but good enough to get through seven," he said. "The slider was terrible, it was just spinning. The fastball command wasn't that good, and it seemed like I had runners on every inning to lead off. I really had to battle tonight."
Opposite Zimmermann, Hammel dominated. The right-hander pitched eight innings, allowing one unearned run on five hits with a career-high-tying 10 strikeouts and zero walks.
"He's pretty nasty," Johnson said. "We had a hard time, early on, laying off his breaking ball. He had everything working."
The Nationals tied the game in the fifth, when Ian Desmond led off with a single up the middle that deflected off the glove of Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts. Two batters later, Roger Bernadina grounded to third as Desmond was running on the play. Once Orioles third baseman Betemit threw to first base, Desmond alertly took off for third. Reynolds, upon catching the throw at first, fired it back, but errantly. The ball rolled toward the left-field fence, allowing Desmond to score.
"We didn't have much going on there offensively, so I just tried to put a little pressure on them," Desmond said. "I was on my way to third and I figured that I had it, but then I saw [Betemit] retreat back and I kind of panicked a little bit. And then I slid and saw the ball go down the line and came home."
In the bottom of the fifth, Zimmermann got one out before hitting Nick Johnson with a 1-2 slider. Two batters later, Roberts singled to left, sending Johnson to third. Two pitches later, J.J. Hardy smacked a double to left-center to score Johnson and make the score 2-1.
The Nats' best chance to score came in the seventh, when Desmond and Danny Espinosa singled back to back with one out. But after Bernadina struck out, Jesus Flores sent a sharp liner to Hardy, who snatched it with a leaping grab.
"Flo hit a ball, hit a bullet, and Hardy made a hell of a play on it," Johnson said.
Ryan Mattheus came on to pitch the eighth inning for the Nats, relieving Zimmermann after 101 pitches. Mattheus got through the frame in nine pitches and still has yet to surrender a hit since being activated from the disabled list on June 17.
In the ninth, the Nats made two outs on three pitches before Desmond worked a walk on four straight balls from closer Jim Johnson. Desmond finished 2-for-3, raising his batting average to .269. On an 0-2 count, however, Espinosa ripped a liner up the middle, only to have Johnson make a terrific stab to haul it in and end the game.
"We hit a lot of balls hard tonight, I liked that," Johnson said. "Their guy pitched good, too. Just a hell of a ballgame, tough one to lose."
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.