Jordan Zimmermann showed no signs of it on the mound, but the hard-throwing no-nonsense Wisconsonite had a stiff neck during last night's start against the Philadelphia Phillies. "Zim woke up kind of with a stiff neck today," Nats' skipper Davey Johnson revealed after the game, "and kind of hid it from me. But I knew he had it. You know, nothing's really hidden from the manager. So I kind of cut him shorter than I normally would. But he still threw a heck of a ballgame."
In spite of the discomfort, the just-turned 27-year-old right-hander held the Nationals' divisional rivals to six hits and two earned runs in seven innings of work in which he struck out just one, threw 92 pitches, 66 for strikes and induced 15, count'em, 15 ground ball outs from Phillies' batters. With the Nationals ahead 5-2 after seven, and aware of the issue with his neck, Davey Johnson ended Zimmermann's 10th start of the season early. But to be clear, the pitcher did not ask him to. "He's not one to say anything," Johnson told reporters, "but cold night, I didn't want to go any further with him, so, he should be all right."
Upon being lifted, the stoic Auburndale, Wisconsin-born right-hander asked his manager to keep any talk of an issue between the two of them. "[Zimmermann] did say, 'Don't say nothing to nobody,'" Johnson joked afterwards, "That's not my style. I'm not going to get caught saying nothing, but he did a heck of a job going out there and pitching with a stiff neck, that's all I can say." The major league leader in wins (8-2) ended the night with a 1.71 ERA, a 2.78 FIP, nine walks (1.10 BB/9) and 46 Ks (5.62 K/9) in 73.2 IP so far this season, over which he's held opposing hitters to a .206/.236/.281 line.
So what's he doing right on the mound? "He's going right after good hitters and he's making pitches," Davey Johnson told a reporter who asked. "He uses both sides of the plate. He's got good movement, late movement, exploding fastball and he mixes in his breaking ball and throws it in a good spot."
He's also getting ahead of opposing hitters and dispatching them with efficiency. After getting to 0-2 counts against him this year, opposing hitters have a .179/.193/.232 line against Zimmermann with 15 Ks from the 56 batters who've found themselves in that unenviable position. Fall behind 1-2, .155/.167/.224. The 28 batters who've been in a 2-2 count with Zimmermann have a .071/.071/.071 line against him so far in 2013. "You can always tell, good-hitting ballclubs don't want to get to two strikes on him," Davey Johnson said, "so they're swinging the bat and he'll have some quick innings."
The Nats' starter threw a 10-pitch first, a seven-pitch third, an eight-pitch, eight-strike sixth and two 14-pitch innings against the Phillies last night and ended his outing with a 19-pitch seventh after which he was at a fairly-efficient 92 pitches overall. "I really haven't had to stress him out too much all year long," the Nats' 70-year-old skipper said, "I think the maximum pitches he's probably thrown are 110 [ed. note - "Actually 107."] and he's thrown complete games under 100 pitches. So, he was still in the seventh inning throwing 94 [mph], so I know he was uncomfortable but he was still throwing the heck out of the ball."
The win gave the Nationals' 07 second round pick 15-straight starts in the nation's capital in which he hasn't suffered a loss. He may be Wisconsin-born and raised, but he's gotten pretty comfortable in his adopted home.