After allowing six earned runs in each of his previous two outings, both losses, 25-year-old '07 2nd Round pick Jordan Zimmermann threw 6.0 scoreless on Sunday in the Washington Nationals' series-clinching win over the New York Mets. Zimmermann walked just one batter, the opposing pitcher Dillon Gee, who was stranded on third when he failed to run on a one-out bases-loaded fly ball to right in the sixth. The hesitation on the Mets' pitcher's part got the runner on first doubled up as he tried to deke the Nats into cutting the throw instead of throwing home. Score it a 9-4-3 inning-ending DP.
The base on balls was the first Zimmermann had issued in 20.2 IP, since the right-hander walked Cubs' first baseman Carlos Pena in the sixth and final inning of a July 4th start against Chicago. Pena never scored either. He was thrown out by Jayson Werth trying to score from second on a two-out single by Cubs' backstop Geovany Soto...
After Zimmermann's turn in the rotation July 4th in D.C., the Auburndale, Wisconsin-born pitcher threw six and a third shutout innings against Colorado on July 10th then sat for nine days through the All-Star Break before taking the mound again on the road against Houston in the first of the two July starts in which he allowed six runs against both the Astros and Marlins. Zimmermann sat for seven days between each of those starts, and Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson told reporters on Sunday night that the extra days off were behind his starter's troubles.
"He had too much rest. He was too strong, he was rushing and getting out in front, " Johnson said, "Today he was a lot better, ten times better and it showed in his performance." Pitching on five day's rest, Zimmermann tied a season-high throwing 107 pitches against New York. "He made quality pitches when he had to," the Nats' Skipper said, "It was a hot day. He'd thrown about as many pitches as [he's] thrown this year and they were all quality to me. I really wanted to win for him." The Nationals took a 2-0 lead into the sixth, setting Zimmermann up for win number seven of 2011, but solo HR's surrended by Sean Burnett in the seventh and closer Drew Storen in the ninth left the starter with a no-decision.
It was the third start this season in which Jordan Zimmermann had held his opponent off the scoreboard while he was pitching but didn't factor in the decision. After he'd struggled against Houston, Zimmermann told reporters, "I just didn't have a good feel for much of anything. My slider was pretty terrible tonight and I had a rough time locating the fastball and when you have nights like that you're going to get hit around." After his strong outing against New York, the Nats' starter told reporters, including CSNWashington.com's Chase Hughes, as quoted in an article entitled, "Nationals score in bottom of 9th to beat Mets", that everything was working for him:
"'I was working down in the zone, the fastball was good. The misses I did have were off the plate,' Zimmermann said. 'That was big for me. If I miss over the plate with two strikes is when I get in trouble.'"
"It's just a same we couldn't save that for Jordan Zimmermann," Davey Johnson said after the Washington Nationals blew a 2-1 lead in the 9th inning of Sunday's game before coming back to win, "...he deserved to win that ballgame." The biggest threat from the Mets with Zimmermann on the mound came in the sixth inning of Sunday's game. Back-to-back one-out singles by Danny Murphy and David Wright put the tying run on and a balk by Zimmermann (the first of his MLB career and first since 2008 at Double-A Harrisburg) put both runners in scoring position with one down. The right-hander's response? Back-to-back K's. Angel Pagan with a brutal backdoor 2-2 slider and Jason Bay on a 95 mph foul tip strike three that stranded both runners and preserved Washington's 2-0 lead.
After the balk, Zimmermann's manager said, "He rose to the occasion and threw nothing but quality pitches on the next two hitters. They didn't have a chance." After Sunday' start the right-hander's at 132.2 IP of the 160.0 he's expected to throw in 2011. Will he get to September? Will the Nats adjust at all to stretch him. "No," Davey Johnson told reporters. He's likely to get four more starts. Johnson, however, said that he might "revisit" that discussion though he had smile on his face when he said so.
The way these issues are handled today is much different Johnson went on to say. "Those decisions really were solely up to me when I had young pitchers. Not over-taxing them early and letting them go as long as I felt like they were not having a problem between starts." If there were issues, Johnson said, they would, "...kind of skip starts and try to get them to the end. But I've never had a doctor say X number of innings"
"But coming back from surgery," Johnson admitted, "you want to be cautious, but he might be in the best shape of any guy on the staff. But you know it's not as paramount where we're at," meaning not in contention and in need of the pitcher who's likely been the Nationals' best so far this season. Zimmermann will thrown his 27+ innings then likely shut down for the year just before rosters expand and before Stephen Strasburg, if all goes as planned, comes back to pitch a few innings at the end of the year like Zimmermann, whose own return has been a model for the Nats' 2010 no.1 overall pick, did at the end of the 2010 campaign.
2012. Strasburg and Zimmermann atop the Nats' rotation. I hope the rest of the National League is ready for this.