WASHINGTON -- A trip to the East Coast to face the first-place Nationals was not going to be the cure for what ails Tim Lincecum.
In a battle of first-place clubs, Washington rudely welcomed the Giants in the first game of a three-game set, and shelled the two-time Cy Young Award winner in a decisive 9-3 victory Tuesday night at Nationals Park.
Lincecum had appeared to recently correct his early-season struggles (he did not win a game from April 29 to June 26) over his last two outings, but gave up a career-high eight runs (seven earned) on nine hits in just 3 1/3 innings of work against a Nationals lineup that has averaged 8.42 runs per game over its last seven.
"When the middle of the lineup starts swinging the bat like it's capable of doing, the rest of the guys are starting to jell, and that really just puts the icing on the cake," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "It takes the pressure off everybody in the lineup, and everybody can trust each other in the lineup. They don't have to do too much. Everybody in our lineup, especially our All-Star shortstop [Ian Desmond], they're just swinging the heck out of it."
It was just the third time in Lincecum's career, and first time since June 11 of last season, that the right-hander has given up seven earned runs in a game. And it was more of the same for him against Washington; he is now 1-3 with a 5.35 ERA in his career against the Nats.
"For any pitcher, if your command is off, you're going to have problems," Johnson said. "Hitters get to see more pitches, hitters get to time more pitches."
As woeful as Lincecum was, Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann was equally effective against the Giants' quiet lineup. The right-hander, who continues to lead baseball's best pitching staff with a 2.70 ERA, struck out seven over six innings, scattering seven hits and two runs that the Giants scratched across in the fifth.
The right-hander has gone at least six innings in each of his 16 starts this year.
"As long as I can stay out there and keep the team in the ballgame and keep it close, I feel like I'm doing my job," Zimmermann said.
Lincecum used almost a 50-50 mix of fastballs and breaking pitches against the Nationals, but was ineffective practically from the get-go.
Desmond and Danny Espinosa both notched hits and scored in the second, and Zimmermann recorded his eighth hit of the season, an RBI double into the right-field corner, to make it 2-0.
Washington added to its lead in a three-run third that was highlighted by an Adam LaRoche double to straightaway center field and a no-doubt homer to left from Desmond.
"Whatever it is, I wish I'd see it off every pitcher," Desmond said of his 9-for-11 career history against Lincecum. "He's a good pitcher, I think I just rise to the occasion when I face him. The adrenaline -- you can't really fake it. It just shows up. I know he's one of the best pitchers in the game, and it gets my blood going a little bit."
Lincecum loaded the bases in the fourth, with two walks and a Bryce Harper double, before giving way to right-hander George Kontos. All three runners eventually came around to score, bringing Lincecum's runs allowed to eight on the evening and his season ERA to 6.08.
"Coming in here and dealing with that heat -- it got the better of me today," Lincecum said. "[But] I'm not going to look at that as an excuse. I still have to execute pitches."
Zimmermann's shutout bid came to an end in the fifth when the Giants staged a two-run rally that began with an error and ended with a broken-bat single to right field, narrowing Washington's lead to 8-2.
An 85-minute delay in the seventh could hardly reverse the Giants' fortune, as the teams exchanged eighth-inning runs and the Nats' bullpen put a cap on a game that ended just under 12 hours before the teams' Independence Day meeting in the nation's capital on Wednesday morning.
"Guys are trying to get outta here as quick as possible," left fielder Steve Lombardozzi said. "It'll be a quick turnaround, but just hang with 'em and we'll get 'em tomorrow."