The Washington Nationals were reportedly reluctant to include 24-year-old right-hander Jordan Zimmermann in any proposed deal for Tampa Bay Rays' right-hander Matt Garza, who was eventually dealt to Chicago, though the Nats' '07 2nd Round pick's name was mentioned by some who speculated about what Washington was willing to offer Kansas City for Zack Greinke. Zimmermann, the, "clear-cut top prospect in the organization," before the 2009 season according to Baseball America's Aaron Fitt, is set to head to Spring Training finally 100% healthy and he will hopefully pitch his first full season in two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August of '09 and working his way back for seven starts at the end of the 2010 season. After that's accomplished, Zimmermann's expected to pitch at the top of the Nats' rotation, eventually becoming part of a 1-2 punch as a front-end starter behind Stephen Strasburg.
Nationals' Skipper Jim Riggleman told Nationals 360 hosts MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr and Francis Rose in a recent interview that Washington was counting on, "Zimmermann coming back and hopefully being healthy from day one." This year, Zimmermann, if healthy, will be working alongside John Lannan, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Ross Detwiler, Tom Gorzelanny, Yunesky Maya or one of the Nats' other starter options depending on how the rotation shapes up this Spring. In MLB.com's Bill Ladson's article yesterday entitled, "Nats acquire lefty Gorzelanny from Cubs", D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said he expected to see, "see a much-improved Jordan Zimmermann" in 2011, who is, "...going to turn into the pitcher we think he is and 14 other clubs think he is. He is the guy that is in demand every time we try to make a trade."
In a segment on his Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio show "Inside Pitch" yesterday, former Nationals' General Manager Jim Bowden and his co-host Casey Stern included Zimmermann on a list of young pitchers who are expected to make an impact at the major league level next season. The former Nats' GM offered the following assessment of the right-hander who was drafted when Mr. Bowden was still part of the D.C. front office :
Jim Bowden: "Jordan Zimmermann, look, he's second year now removed from the Tommy John surgery and there were scouts in the system that saw him as a no.1. I saw him clearly as a no.2 type of starter. This is a guy who, when healthy, you can't pick the ball up, he'll throw it in the mid-90's, he's got a wipe-out breaking ball, and he's a really tough kid. He's not afraid to elevate in the strike zone, and he's got nasty late life down in the zone. This guy can be a two, and when you're looking at the Nationals long-term, Strasburg can be a pure no.1, Zimmermann can be a pure no.2, and then the question is who's going to be three, four and five, that's what's gotta be answered, but I would tell you that if Jordan Zimmermann is healthy this year, this is a pitcher that I think capable of winning double digits, 10 to 12 games, somewhere in there, probably pitch 160-180 innings, they'll be careful with him only because they're trying to develop him long-term. But he is potentially, if healthy, that good."
With 9.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, and a 2.60 ERA in 47 starts, 50 appearances and 235.1 IP over 3 seasons in the Nats' system, (including the 10 starts he made at four levels of the organization last year as he rehabbed his surgically-repaired right elbow in which he K'd 7.0 K/9 and walked just 1.4 BB/9), Jordan Zimmermann proved ready for the Major Leagues. In his first 16 starts and 91.1 IP after making his debut in 2009 and before suffering the injury, Zimmermann posted a 4.62 ERA, 92 ERA+ and a 3.59 FIP, collecting 92 K's (9.1 K/9) and walking just 29 (2.9 K/9). His walk rate remained the same over the seven starts he made last season, though his strikeouts dropped slightly, but most evidence suggests that pitchers get stronger in the second year after undergoing the ligament replacement procedure.
Chien-Ming Wang's recovering from shoulder surgery. John Lannan's worries about elbow issues reportedly led to his struggles in the first half last season. Livan Hernandez will have to fight against time to avoid regressing to the pitcher he'd been before his renaissance 2010 season in D.C. Strasburg's not expected back til late next year at best. Jason Marquis returned last season but struggled all year before and after having bone chips removed from right elbow and he has a lot to prove. Ross Detwiler missed significant time last year after surgery on his hip. It's no wonder Nats' GM Mike Rizzo acquired left-hander Tom Gorzelanny yesterday with all the question marks in the Nats' rotation, but as the Nationals' General Manager told MLB.com's Mr. Ladson yesterday, if the pitchers mentioned above manage to remain healthy, there's potential for improvement over what Washington got from their starters last season:
"'Zimmermann won one game last year, Marquis won two, Detwiler won one and Maya won zero. I think there are six guys that are going to be much better than they were last year. The pitching is going to improve, because we have guys who have track records that say they are going to improve.
"'Marquis is going to get back to being Jason Marquis. Yunesky Maya is going to be the guy our scouts thought he was when we signed him.'"
Zimmermann might be the biggest question mark of all though, just because so much is expected of him. A healthy 2011 season sets the Nats up with two top of the rotation starters who can be supplemented with free agents arm or a starter they can acquire via trade this season, at the Non-Waiver deadline or next Winter if the Nats system doesn't produce the necessary arms. This year, however, Zimmermann might have to lead the rotation til Strasburg returns, but the Nationals are keeping their options open, and stockpiling pitchers for once, having apparently learned the lessons the last few seasons have taught.