Washington Nationals' right-hander couldn't hold the St. Louis Cardinals down late last season, but he finished an impressive 2012 campaign at full-strength and he's ready to take the Nats deeper into the postseason in 2013.
Jordan Zimmermann struggled in two starts against St. Louis in September, but subtract the two outings against the Cardinals, in which the 26-year-old right-hander gave up a combined 15 hits and 11 ER in 10.0 IP, and the Washington Nationals' 07 2nd Pick put up a 2.19 ERA while holding opponents (NYM, CHC, LAD, MIL) to a .226/.294/.409 line with 21 hits, six runs (6 ER) and eight walks (2.92 BB/9) allowed over four starts and 24.2 IP in the last month of the season in which he collected 26 Ks (9.49 K/9).
The first time he faced the Cards, Davey Johnson told reporters that Zimmermann's issues had nothing to do with shoulder soreness the pitcher dealt with late in the year, or fatigue. "He was having a little problem with the mound," the 69-year-old skipper said. "He was flying a little bit open and he left the ball up, couldn't get it down. Even his sliders were up. I felt like he was going to make some adjustments and he never could make any adjustments."
Zimmermann lasted just 3.2 IP in that early September outing at home against St. Louis. The Nats' right-hander threw 52 pitches in the first two innings, giving up four hits and two earned runs. Zimmermann then allowed two more to score in a 17-pitch third and gave up one earned run before and one after he was lifted, in a 24-pitch, two-run fourth by the Cards, after which they were up 8-6 on the Nats.
"He's strong," Johnson assured reporters inquiring about whether or not Zimmermann was tiring, "But it was just one of those days. Sometimes when he has an extra day rest he's too strong, kind of flies open, jumps at the hitter [and] you keep thinking he's going to make some adjustments and start getting it down."
In Zimmermann's final regular season start of 2012, he held the Cardinals scoreless for six innings, throwing just 93 pitches overall. All three runs he allowed that day and three of the seven hits came in a 19-pitch seventh, in which he recorded just one out, giving up back-to-back one-out singles and then a two-run double by Pete Kozma before walking the last batter he'd face that night, David Freese. Sean Burnett relieved Zimmermann, allowed one inherited runner to score and a 4-0 lead was down to one run at 4-3. Drew Storen then surrendered a run with two down in the ninth, allowing the Cardinals to tie it at four before the Nationals came back to win in extra innings.
Before Freese faced Zimmermann for a third time in five weeks in Game 2 of the NLDS, the Cards' third baseman talked about how he and his teammates approached the Nationals' starter. "He attacks you," Freese told reporters, "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."
The Cardinals got to Zimmermann early that day in St. Louis, with four-straight hits off the Nats' starter and four runs scored in the second inning of a game they'd go on to win 12-4, tying the series at 1-1 after Washington had rallied to take Game 1 on the road. Zimmermann lasted just 3.0 IP in the first postseason start of his career.
After Zimmermann was done for the day in his Game 2 start, St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Joe Strauss pointed out noted on Twitter that the Nationals' starter had a, "... 2.38 ERA against teams other than STL this season," and an, "... 11.08 ERA in 3 starts against Cards."
"He didn't really make a lot adjustments out there," Johnson told reporters. Zimmermann threw 65 pitches, 51 of them fastballs in his 3.0 innings of work. "He kind of stayed one way, hard away against a good fastball hitting club and you've got to use both sides of the plate. And he didn't really use his slider much early on. He started going to it a little later. But that's just a little inexperience."
Zimmermann got a bit of redemption when he got to throw an inning in relief in the Nationals' Game 4 win over the Cardinals, striking out the side on 12 pitches, but he never got to start again in 2012. Washington lost Game 5 to St. Louis. Zimmermann finished his fourth major league season (12-8) with a 2.94 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 43 walks (1.98 K/9) and 153 Ks (7.04 K/9) in 32 starts and 195.2 IP.
The Auburndale,Wisconsin-born starter ended his 2011 campaign talking about throwing more strikes, letting hitters put the ball in play, improving his command and "getting more efficiency per pitch" as D.C. GM Mike Rizzo explained it late that year.
Zimmermann ended the 2012 season with a 47.9% Zone% (the overall % of pitches a batters sees inside the strike zone) landing him fourth overall in the NL in Fangraph.com's Zone% behind only Wandy Rodriguez (HOU/PIT) at (48.5%), the Mets' R.A. Dickey (51.2%) and the Phillies' Cliff Lee (53.8%). Zimmermann got more batters to swing at pitches outside of the zone (Fangraphs' O-Swing%) than he had in previous seasons, up from 23.8% in 2010 to 30.9% in 2011 and 34.4% in 2012, finishing the season with the second-highest rate of hitters swinging at pitches outside the zone in the NL, behind only the Phillies' Cole Hamels (35.0%) and he finished second overall in F-Strike% ("... the percentage of first pitch strikes") as well, with a (69.2%) F-Strike%, behind only the Phillies' Lee (71.6%).
Zimmermann was the 12th most valuable starter in the NL in terms of fWAR, finishing the year at a career-best +3.5 fWAR behind only teammate Gio Gonzalez (+5.4 fWAR) amongst qualified starters from the Nationals. After a strong season with the NL East Champions, Zimmermann is the only arbitration-eligible National who didn't agree to a deal before the deadline to do so last week. Zimmermann asked for $5.8M in 2013, the Nationals submitted a figure of $4.6M. The two side still have time to agree on a deal (and have discussed an extension), but have yet to agree on a contract for Zimmermann for 2013.
At least week's NatsFest, the right-hander told reporters, including the Washington Times' Amanda Comak, that though they continued to discuss an agreement, "We're kind of hung up right now." The two sides would like to get a deal done, however, and the pitcher said it remains a possibility. "We'll see what happens,'" Zimmermann said, "'but we definitely want to get this deal done and move on.'" In an interview with CSNWashington.com from NatsFest posted at NatsInsider.com today, the Nats' right-hander says he's also ready to take what he learned last season and get started in 2013.
A full season back following Tommy John. Another year's experience. "It was a good run last year and we came up short. It didn't end like we wanted it to," Zimmermann said, "But this year is another year. And we've all got another year under our belts and I think we're going to be that much better." Asked if he'd use the way the 2012 season ended as motivation, Zimmermann said, "Yeah. It's one of those things that keeps a sour taste in your mouth and you want to get back out there and get the new season going and prove that we were the better team last year." Bill James' projections have the 26-year-old, who'll turn 27 in September, finishing his fifth major league season with a 3.32 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 1.94 BB/9 and 7.44 K/9 in 31 starts and 190.0 IP in 2013.
While it's hard to imagine Zimmermann maintaining the emotion he showed in his last appearance throughout an entire season, the right-hander showed what he can do when it's all on the line. Don't make Zimmermann angry, National League hitters, you won't like facing him when he's angry.
• Check out the Jordan Zimmermann CSNWashington.com interview at NatsInsider.com HERE.