In an interview this past August, 69-year-old Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson talked to reporters about what tends to happen when a starter is asked to pitch out of the pen. Realizing that they won't be out there as long as usual, the pitcher tends to give it everything he's got since there's no need to hold anything in reserve. "When you know you're just in there for an inning or two," Johnson said, "Generally, almost 9 times out of 10, the fastball becomes more alive and that sets up everything else." The Nats' skipper was talking about Craig Stammen and the way he had adjusted to his middle relief role in 2012 after years in the organization as a starter. There's no better example, however, of a pitching cutting loose given the opportunity to pitch in relief than Jordan Zimmermann in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the NLDS with St. Louis.
The Nationals and Cardinals were tied at 1-1 with the Cards ahead in the series 2-1. Ross Detwiler threw 6.0 strong innings in which he gave up just three hits and one unearned run. When he was done for the night, Davey Johnson turned to Zimmermann, the Nationals' Game 2 starter, who'd given up seven hits and five runs in 3.0 IP in his postseason debut. The 26-year-old, '07 2nd Round pick came on throwing heat in Game 4 in Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. "He came in, and I mean, he was hyped," Johnson said in the post game interview after the Nats won on a Jayson Werth walk-off. "That's the hardest I've seen him throw all year," the Nationals' manager said, obviously impressed by the usually mild-mannered right-hander's aggressive outing.
"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's fastball, which he threw at an average of 93.8 mph all year, sat at 96-97 mph. The slider that usually came in around 86.4 mph was up to 91 as the Nats' skipper said. Pete Kozma [spit!]™ went down swinging at a 97 mph 1-2 fastball. Kyle Lohse went down chasing a tight 91 mph slider. Jon Jay took a 97 mph heater for a called strike three. 12 pitches, nine strikes. Three quick outs. Zimmermann painted the outside corner to get Jay looking, pumped his fist twice, let out an out-of-character scream and walked off the mound for the last time in 2012.
It might have been the most impressive inning of work in Zimmermann's career, outside of the "immaculate inning" the right-hander threw in a 5/6/11 game against the then-Florida Marlins, when he struck out the side on nine pitches to become just the 42nd pitcher in major league history to accomplish the efficient feat. Zimmermann finished his fourth MLB season with a 2.94 ERA, a 3.51 FIP, 43 walks (1.98 BB/9) and 153 Ks (7.04 K/9) in 32 starts and 195.2 IP. Zimmermann finished 10th in the NL in fWAR at +3.5 fWAR and finished the year as Nationals' third most valuable pitcher in terms of fWAR, behind Stephen Strasburg (+4.3 fWAR) and Gio Gonzalez (+5.4 fWAR). In his last appearance of the year, Zimmermann showed a side of himself fans in the nation's capital had never seen before. He was already intimidating. That night in the nation's capital he was downright scary.
• Jordan Zimmermann's Immaculate Inning (5/6/11):
• Game 4 of the NLDS: