Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
Washington Nationals' starter Jordan Zimmermann looks to pound the zone against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Two of the 2012 NLDS this afternoon.
"[Third base coach] Bo Porter will tell you," Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told reporters earlier this summer, "He talks to the opposing players and they have the utmost respect for Jordan Zimmermann. Believe it."
Zimmermann, 26, who's alternately described as a bulldog or the quiet intense member of the Nats' rotation, is a hard-nosed, Wisconsin-born, ultra-competitive pitcher who has taken to pounding the zone with his mid-90's heater (62.5%), biting slider (23.7%), tight curve (11.5%) and occasionally his change (2.2%). The '07 2nd Round pick said it was the changeup he really wanted to work on over the winter in an interview late in 2011, explaining that, "... when you're facing a team and they go over a scouting report, 'He's got a fastball, curve ball, slider, you don't have to worry about his changeup,' and if I can just be able to throw a changeup and have that in the back of the hitter's mind that I have a changeup that's halfway decent, it will make me that much better."
The right-hander hasn't thrown the change any more this season (2.2% in 2011 and '12), but he's continued to pound the zone, throwing enough pitches in the zone (47.9%) to rank fourth overall in the NL in Fangraph.com's Zone% behind only Wandy Rodriguez (48.5%), R.A. Dickey (51.2%) and Cliff Lee (53.8%). That 47.9% Zone% is actually down from the last two seasons in which Zimmermann was at (51.9% - 2011) and (50.9% - 2010). The Nats' starter has also gotten more batters to swing at pitches outside of the zone (Fangraphs' O-Swing%) than he had previously up from 23.8% in 2010 to 30.9% in 2011 and 34.4% this season, which was the second-highest rate of hitters swinging at pitches out of the zone behind only the Phillies' Cole Hamels (35.0%).
The Nationals' starter finished second overall in the NL in F-Strike% ("... the percentage of first pitch strikes"), with a (69.2%) F-Strike%, behind only the Phillies' Lee (71.6%). As Zimmermann's explained in the past, when he came back from Tommy John surgery, he saw fit to adopt a different approach than what he'd previously done on the mound, pitching to contact for lack of a better phrase, as opposed to piling up Ks. "I've just come to realize," the right-hander explained back in the summer of 2011, "... that if I keep trying to strike everyone out, my pitch count is going to get higher faster and I'm not going to be able to stay in the game as long. So, when I came back this year I told myself to just throw strikes, let them put it in play and be able to stay in the game a lot longer."
It's not too surprising to hear how his opponents talk about him when asked for a quick scouting report. Cardinals' third baseman David Freese (who's 2 for 2 w/ a double and a HR vs Zimmermann), talked about facing Zimmermann this afternoon before Game Two of the NLDS in St. Louis. "He attacks you," Freese said, "He's confident in whatever he throws. He's not afraid to find the zone and he just gets after it. When he makes mistake you've got to counter and you've got to make him pay." Zimmermann, for his part, told reporters on Sunday, that he has tremendous respect for the Cards, and knows he'll have to avoid the sort of big mistakes Freese and his teammates are looking for from the Nats' starter.
"They're going to get their runs," Zimmermann said, "But you just got to keep it to a minimum and try to get out of jams as best you can when you're in a tight spot. You're going to give up a home run here and there, but hopefully they're solo [home runs]." Zimmermann will try to keep the Cards in the park, and hopefully the infield when he faces them in Game Two of the NLDS this afternoon.