"[Jordan Zimmermann], he looks like he's easy going," Davey Johnson told reporters on Wednesday afternoon, "But there's fire in there. It comes out once in a while. He doesn't say a whole lot, but when he does he's right on track." Washington Nationals fans caught a glimpse of the fiery 26-year-old right-hander in his final appearance of the 2012 campaign in Game 4 of the NLDS with the St. Louis Cardinals. Asked to come on in relief and bridge the gap to the back of the bullpen, Zimmermann delivered an electric 12-pitch, nine-strike, 1-2-3 frame in which he struck out the side and let out a barbaric yawp as he returned to the dugout.
As the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell wrote in a profile on the Nats' 07 2nd Round pick, when the Wisconsin-born, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point-educated right-hander was asked about the rare display of emotion, he joked with reporters, telling them that side of him only comes out once in a while. "'He only comes out on special occasions,'" Zimmermann said.
Zimmermann finished his fourth major league season, the second one following Tommy John surgery in 2009, with a (12-8) record, a 2.94 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 43 walks (1.98 BB/9) and 153 Ks (7.04 K/9) in 32 starts and 195.2 IP at a career-best +3.4 fWAR. The right-hander is still learning, however, and still adding to his repertoire. The focus this Spring, as it's been for Zimmermann over the last few years, was making his changeup more of a weapon.
In discussing Stephen Strasburg's development last week, Davey Johnson said that the 24-year-old and several of his starters were still growing and learning how to pitch in the majors. "I think in all young pitchers," the 70-year-old skipper said, "they keep learning more about themselves and what they can do and how opposing hitters react to their stuff, and he's still learning. He's still a babe in the woods, as are a lot of my starters.
"The experience comes with learning how the hitters you're up against react to your stuff," Johnson reiterated this week in discussing Zimmermann's growth. "You get a comfort in that, knowing your pitch selection and also your location. And all of them are actually learning to throw more in this year, which is something they haven't done a lot of, which is also a part of the development. Plus [Zimmermann's] got a changeup now, so that's a new weapon for him."
Asked today if his right-hander had succeeded in making the pitch more of a weapon this Spring, Davey Johnson said that as successful as he was working with it in Grapefruit League games, it's all about how Zimmermann ends up using it on the mound in regular season outings.
"It probably won't be there until he has success during the regular season," Johnson said, "It's one thing to experiment with something, but until you get a real good comfort feeling, you've got to be successful during the regular season. So, it will be interesting how he uses that. It will be strictly up to him." The process of making the pitch another weapon in the hard-throwing right-hander's arsenal begins today when Zimmermann takes on the Miami Marlins in the finale of the three-game season-opening series in Nationals Park.