Following a dominant month of July for which Jordan Zimmermann earned the NL Pitcher of the Month award, the 26-year-old, ‘07 2nd Round pick out of Auburndale, Wisconsin had begun to receive at least a little attention as a potential Cy Young candidate. A shoulder issue surfaced at the end of that month, however, and the pitcher, who was taking anti-inflammtory medication, had a scheduled start moved back a day so he could pitch on extra rest while he let the shoulder heal.
The start that followed saw Zimmermann, who’d gone at least 6.0 innings in each outing of 2012 leading up to that game, give up seven hits and five runs, four earned, over just 5.0 innings against the Miami Marlins on the road in Marlins Park. Zimmermann made his next start on regular rest and held a punchless Houston Astros’ lineup scoreless over six innings in which he struck out 11 batters without allowing a walk.
Over the next five starts he made, Jordan Zimmermann had a 7.91 ERA with 29 hits, four home runs, eight walks (3.72 BB/9) and 17 runs allowed, all of them earned, over 19.1 IP in which he struck out 12 (5.59 K/9). Zimmermann was (0-2) with the Nationals 1-3 in those games. In the four starts that followed, however, including Monday afternoon’s win over Milwaukee, the Nats’ hard-nosed and hard-throwing right-handed starter put up a 2.19 ERA with 21 hits, six runs, two home runs and eight walks (2.92 BB/9) allowed in 24.2 IP in which he struck out 26 (9.49 K/9). Zimmermann was (3-0) with the Nationals 4-0 in his starts.
Before Zimmermann's 31st start of the year yesterday, Nats’ skipper Davey Johnson praised the pitcher’s work, telling reporters, "He's as strong as a bull. You guys were worried about him because he had a couple not Jordan-esque-type starts, but he'd had a little bit too much rest in-between. But last time out he was outstanding and he knows what he needs do to be successful up here and I like where he's at." The right-hander held Milwaukee to one run on four hits in 6.2 IP, over which he walked two and K'd seven with the only run he gave up coming on a solo home run by the Brewers' Corey Hart, who took a first pitch fastball to right to open up the second inning and tie the game at 1-1.
Later in the second, Milwaukee infielder Jean Segura tripled on a 94 mph full-count fastball in a nine-pitch at bat in which the 22-year-old shortstop saw eight fastballs and fouled off three before finally barreling one up. Zimmermann stranded Segura when he got the opposing pitcher out to end the Brewers' second, then retired 14 of the next 17 batters he faced before he was lifted with a runner on a first and two down in the seventh. Nats' left-hander Sean Burnett took over for the starter and struck backup Brewers' backstop Martin Maldonado out to strand the runner he inherited and close the book on Zimmermann's 31st start.
It was exactly the sort of outing Davey Johnson was looking for from his starter. "You kind of expected it out of him," the Nats' manager said, "He threw the ball great. [Pitching Coach Steve McCatty] was getting on him a little bit. Early on [it was] strictly fastballs. He had a live fastball, but didn't really pitch. And then after about the second inning, the first time through the lineup, then he started using all his arsenal and he really made it look kind of easy." 13 of 14 pitches in the first were fastballs. 19 of 22 pitches in the second were fastballs. Of the 17 pitches Zimmermann threw in the third, four were curves, seven sliders and six fastballs. Two curves, two sliders and six fastballs in a 10-pitch 4th, etc. Zimmermann recorded strikeouts with his fastball, slider and curve and everything was working like it had been earlier in the season.
"When [Zimmermann] got extra days rest," the Nats' manager explained when asked about the notable difference in his pitcher's stuff in yesterday's start, "He started rushing and getting out there too far and the elbow comes down and [his slider] was flat. But he's so strong. He gets and extra day's rest and he really wants to take it to the hitters and he gets out there too quick." But Zimmermann had his fastball and breaking ball working on Monday. "He's not jumping. He's still strong as a bull, but had good curveball, good slider, outstanding fastball."
On the year, the right-hander is now (12-8) with a 2.90 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 41 walks (1.95 BB/9) and 148 Ks (7.04 K/9) in 189.1 IP. Davey Johnson has his left-handers lined up against Philadelphia in each of the next three games with Ross Detwiler starting tonight, John Lannan tomorrow and Gio Gonzalez going in the series finale on Thursday. Zimmermann's 32nd start of 2012 will then take place in St. Louis, where he'll face the Cardinals' lineup that roughed him up the last time around and the Nats' starter will certainly have something to prove against a team he could potentially face for a third time this season should the two teams cross paths in October.