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Washington Nationals' right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will start Game 1 on the NLCS if the Nats can beat the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS tonight in D.C. Last night in Nationals Park, the '07 2nd Round pick made his first career relief appearance.
Of all the impressive things that took place in last night's Game 4 of the NLDS in Washington, D.C. maybe none was more impressive than Jordan Zimmermann's 12-pitch, 3 K relief appearance in the seventh inning of what was then a 1-1 game. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters before Game 4 that the 26-year-old right-hander would be available out of the bullpen should starter Ross Detwiler falter, but Detwiler instead threw 6.0 strong innings in his first postseason start and rewarded the faith his manager had shown in him by giving him the ball in what could have been the last game of the Nats' 2012 campaign if they hadn't won.
When Detwiler put two runners on in the sixth, the Nationals' manager had Zimmermann and right-hander Craig Stammen warming up but he told reporters afterwards that he preferred to bring Zimmermann in for what would be his first career relief appearance at the start of an inning. Detwiler worked out of trouble and stranded the Cardinals' baserunners, and Johnson then turned to Zimmermann in the top of the seventh, at which point the '07 2nd Round pick went out to the mound and unleashed a fastball at 96-97 mph, a sharp slider that hit 91 and an 80 mph curve that had Cards' hitters baffled as they went down in order with Pete Kozma and Kyle Lohse swinging and Jon Jay taking a called strike three on one of the 97 mph heaters.
"He came in, and I mean, he was hyped," Johnson told reporters after the game, still clearly in awe of what he'd seen from the right-hander. "That's the hardest I've seen him throw all year. I mean, his slider was like 91, and he just -- some guys in our [dugout] said, 'That's our next closer.' I said, 'No way.'"
Zimmermann put everything he had into the 12 pitches he threw and when he left the field he told Nats' pitching coach Steve McCatty he was drained. Johnson talked to his right-hander and told him, "Well, don't be too drained, because you're going to probably start in three days.'"
"I had a really beat up bullpen," Johnson said, "so I really needed that seventh inning, and he did a heck of a job."
When Zimmermann left the mound, the normally reserved, relatively-expressionless right-hander pumped his first like he was Tyler Clippard after a strikeout and let out a scream unlike anything Nationals fans have ever seen from the Wisconsin-born starter who struggled in Game 2 of the NLDS in his own first postseason outing. If the Nationals win tonight in Game 5 against St. Louis, Davey Johnson confirmed today that Zimmermann will take the mound in Game 1 on the NLCS against San Francisco. But the Nationals have to beat the Cardinals' first and they'll have to do it without one of the three effective relievers they used last night.