NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 08: Starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann #27 of the Washington Nationals gets set to throw a pitch against the New York Mets during the Mets' Home Opener at Citi Field on April 8, 2011 in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
The Washington Nationals are 5-0 in Jordan Zimmermann's five starts this June, and 7-3 in his last 10 starts stretching back to a May 1st win for both the Nats and Zimmermann over the San Francisco Giants. As MLB.com writer Doug Miller noted this morning in an article on tonight's matchup between the Nats' starter and LAA right-hander Dan Haren entitled, "Haren looks to end Zimmermann's run", the Nationals' '07 2nd Round pick has registered quality starts in each of his last 10 outings and is now one quality start away from setting a franchise record.
Quality starts (defined as a start in which the pitcher goes six innings allowing no more than three earned runs) are, of course, a much-maligned measurement of a pitcher's success, but in Zimmermann's case they're indicative of the strong season the hard-throwing Wisconsin-born right-hander has had in his first full year back following Tommy John surgery in 2009.
A quality start tonight, as the Nats pointed out in the game notes for tonight's matchup, will break a franchise record set by Livan Herandez in 2005 when the then-30-year-old right-hander put together 10 quality starts over a stretch that lasted from April 24th through June 15 and coincidentally ended when Hernandez was knocked out after only 5.2 IP of against the same LA Angels Zimmermann will face tonight. The Nationals went 9-1 with Livan (8-0) over the course of that ten-game quality start streak in '05, and the Nats won the game against LA in which Hernandez's streak ended.
Zimmermann's (3-0) in five June starts with a 1.05 ERA, 2.69 FIP and a ridiculous 92.7 LOB%. He's holding opposing batters to a .228 BAA, 1.57 BB/9 and a .272 BABIP, the lowest BABIP against he's posted in a month through the first three months of the season. Zimmermann's strikeouts are down, from 8.80 K/9 in 30.2 IP in May to 6.03 K/9 in 34.1 IP so far in June, but he's seen an uptick in groundballs (36.9% in May to 39.8% in June) and line drives (11.9% in May to 23.3 in June) while giving up less fly balls (51.2% in May to 36.9% in June) and less HR's (4.7% in May to 2.6% HR/FB in June) on the pitches that opposing hitters have been able to get in the air.
In his last start against Seattle, Zimmerman held the Mariners off the board through 7.0 scoreless, striking out just four, allowing six hits and walking just one, but receiving no run-support and a no-decision when the Nats failed to score until the top of the eighth in a game that ending up going fourteen. The lack of support isn't unique to Zimmermann's starts, as the Nats have struggled to score runs all year, with twelve of forty wins one-run victories and seven of the twelve 2-1 wins. Zimmermann's received 3.1 runs of support per 9.0 IP which the Nats' pregame notes on tonight's matchup point out is the 6th lowest average number of runs in support amongst in the National League.
In spite of the lack of support, Zimmermann's already had a strong season in a year which will likely end early since he's on an innings limit 22-months-removed from elbow reconstruction surgery. A quality start tonight and he's in the Nats' record books in place of Mr. National Himself Livan Hernandez. A strong start against the Angels and the right-hander can help Washington climb back above .500. Zimmermann's last three starts have occurred with the Nats in the midst of one win streak or another, but tonight he's asked to help salvage a win after Washington's dropped two in-a-row in LA. That's what your ace is supposed to do. Until he's part of a 1-2 punch with Stephen Strasburg, that's Zimmermann's role.