Jordan Zimmermann passed up an opportunity to pitch in this past week's All-Star Game in New York's Citi Field so he could rest a bothersome issue with his neck and come back 100% for the second "half" of the 2013 campaign. After the 27-year-old, Auburndale, Wisconsin-born starter had completed his 20th start of season, he said the neck felt better than it had in a while. Unfortunately for Zimmermann, his 20th start ended after just two innings in the series finale with the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers, who scored seven runs and connected for eight hits before he was done for the day.
Zimmermann felt fine, but said the long break may have been behind his lack of command.
"After my last start I took a few days off from throwing to give this neck a little break," Zimmermann told reporters, "and that might have something to do with it, but overall today, I felt the best I've felt in a long time. And the command wasn't quite there and all my misses that I left over the plate got hit hard today." At least neck wasn't an issue...
"That was the good news today," Davey Johnson said, "That was the best he's felt in a long time. I just talked to him. He feels like [after] the long rest he didn't have his command and wasn't sharp, but he said that was the best he's felt in quite a while."
The first inning went fairly well for the Nationals' starter. Zimmermann gave up back-to-back one-out singles but stranded both runners after 18 pitches. By the time he got through the second, however, he'd thrown 40 pitches (58 total) and the Dodgers had batted around with Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez homering for two of the six hits the right-hander surrendered. Kemp homered the first time up, then after the Dodgers' shortstop's three-run blast, doubled to drive Andre Ethier in after Ethier took a two-out walk. Zimmermann faced 11 batters that inning and didn't come back out for the third.
"Sometimes it's like that," Zimmermann said when asked about feeling good and getting knocked around. "Neck felt fine, everything felt good. I hung a few sliders. Two home runs were hanging sliders. When I did make some quality pitches, they had good swings on them. They're hot right now and it was just one of those days."
Zimmermann hasn't had too many of "those days" this season. After start no.20, the right-hander has a 3.01 ERA and a 3.30 FIP over 134 1/3 IP in which he's given up 12 HRs (0.80 HR/9) and 20 walks (1.34 BB/9) while striking out 96 (6.43 K/9). "I just think that it's ten days between pitching and he left a lot of balls right in the middle of the plate," Davey Johnson said, "His breaking ball didn't have a lot of break to it. So, he should be fine."
The neck issue, Johnson said, should no longer be a concern. "We might be past that hopefully."
He did admit that it was the first thing he wondered when he saw how hard Zimmermann was getting hit. "I was concerned something was acting up. He threw a lot of pitches in that second inning and they were hitting the ball awfully hard. So I was thinking that [his neck] was acting up. He still had the velocity and stuff, so he should be fine."