Jordan Zimmermann is excited about the All-Star Game. Excited about the opportunity to represent the Washington Nationals. Excited to get to meet some players he never had a chance to since he came out of a small college when the Nats selected him in the second round of the 2007 Draft . But most of all, as he explained to ESPN980's Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro in an interview this week, he's excited to not have to talk about it any more. "I'm truly honored to be on the team now," the soft-spoken Auburndale, Wisconsin-native said, "And we can move on and not be asked all these questions about what it's going to be like to be an All-Star and all this other stuff, so... I'm excited and it's going to be fun and something I'll remember for the rest of my life."
Four years after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the 27-year-old right-hander heads into his final start before the All-Star break tonight tied for the NL lead with 12 wins, which matches a career high. Zimmermann has the second-lowest BB/9 (1.29 BB/9) amongst National League starters, behind only the Cards' Adam Wainwright (0.90 BB/9); the seventh-lowest ERA (2.57); 9th lowest FIP (3.19); seventh-lowest BABIP (.245) and the third-lowest WHIP (0.95) behind only the Mets' Matt Harvey (0.92) and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (0.90).
Impressive as he's been so far this season, the right-hander gave most of the credit to his teammates when he learned he was named to the National League's roster for this summer's edition of the mid-summer classic. "It's a huge honor to be representing the Nationals," Zimmermann told reporters. "I feel like [Stephen Strasburg] had a great first-half and he could also be there, but, like I said, I throw the ball. These guys score the runs for me and play the defense and I'm happy to be out there and pitching for them."
The humility is endearing, but the Nationals' right-hander has impressed with his stoic demeanor and willingness to pound the zone and trust his stuff. It's something Zimmermann said he's done since he started playing the game.
"Just growing up," Zimmermann explained, "I've always been taught to attack hitters and don't be scared of anyone, and every step of the way that's kind of what I've been doing. Just throwing strikes and going right after guys and making them hit the pitch that I want them to hit. And everyone knows I throw strikes so they're swinging first pitch or early in the count, so as long as I can locate a good quality pitch early in the counts I'm going to get some quick outs and therefore leading me to stay longer in the game."
That approach has Zimmermann fifth in the NL in innings pitched so far this season with 126, behind NY's Matt Harvey (130), LA's Kershaw (138 1/3), Philadelphia's Cliff Lee (138 2/3) and Wainwright (140 2/3).
Zimmermann's stats across the board put him in pretty good company. Nationals fans who have watched the right-hander develop, go down, rehab and recover will be happy to hear that he doesn't feel like he's reached his full potential yet, which is a scary proposition for opposing hitters.
"I've still got a lot to learn in the game," Zimmermann told ESPN980's Mr. Loverro, "and I think the last couple of years have been great and I've come a long ways. When I first got called up I was more of a thrower and didn't really command anything and thought I could get by with the stuff I had and realized pretty quickly that you can't just throw 95 down the middle and get away with it up here, so I learned to work on the corners a little more and when the time is right, throw some balls out of the zone and so far it's been working."
After one more start in Philadelphia tonight, Zimmermann will take the national stage in Citi Field in New York. Last time he was on a similar platform he came on in relief in Game 4 of last October's NLDS. If his performance in the All-Star Game is anything like that dominant relief outing, the relative anonymity the right-hander enjoys pitching in the shadows while Strasburg and Gonzalez share the spotlight may be a thing of the past.