Jordan Zimmermann was (1-0) with a 1.50 ERA, two walks (1.50 BB/9) and 13 Ks (9.80 K/9) in 12 innings pitched against the Washington Nationals' divisional rivals from Atlanta in 2013. Zimmermann, 27, has faced the Braves seven times in his five-year major league career, but in spite of the familiarity, he said today he still didn't want to show the defending NL East Champions everything in his first start of the 2014 campaign.
"They didn't bring everyone, so only a couple guys saw my stuff," Zimmermann said after the two-inning outing in which he threw just 20 pitches, giving up one hit and inducing five ground ball outs from the six batters he faced.
"I'll see them plenty this year," he explained, "and the way it looks I'll be facing them the next start too. If I'm going on five day's rest I think we play at their place, so I'll face them again I guess and don't want to show them too much, so I'll probably just go with the fastball/changeup again."
And yes, he really was thinking about not showing the Braves everything early.
"Yeah, I don't want to show them everything I have," Zimmermann said. "They basically know what I have anyway, but the less they can see it, the better off."
Zimmermann was (19-9) overall last season with a 3.25 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 40 walks (1.69 BB/9) and 161 Ks (6.79 K/9) in 32 starts and a career-high 213 1/3 IP. The Nats' '07 2nd Round pick finished the season at a career-best +3.6 fWAR.
He said this afternoon he felt comfortable on the mound in the first two innings of what ended up being a minute short of a four-hour game.
"It felt good," he told reporters. "I threw strikes and in the bottom of the zone and therefore I got a lot of ground balls, which was good. And I threw some good changeups. I threw a couple to [Freddie] Freeman. One it was 3-2 and I threw one 1-0 to him and he kind of looked at me like, 'Really? We're starting this already?' So it was good. And got to 3-2 and I figured it was the last thing he was looking for so I threw a pretty good one, it was up a little bit, but he rolled it over and I got a ground ball, so it was good."
The changeup, which has been a work-in-progress over the last few springs, is something he's still getting comfortable using on a regular basis. He threw it just 5% of the time last season, up from 2.2% in each of the previous two campaigns.
"It feels good right now and hopefully this is the way it feels all year," Zimmermann said today.
"But it's still early. Didn't want to show them too much. I pretty much stuck with the fastball/changeup. Threw one or two sliders and my day was done before I knew it."
New Nats' skipper Matt Williams said it's an important pitch for Zimmermann to work on. "He needs to," he said, "and he needs to have that third pitch because if for some reason he doesn't have the feel for the breaking ball that day then he has to be able to go to something. He'll continue to work on it."
Zimmermann plans to keep working on it with a simple goal in mind.
"Trying to carry the changeup over to March," he joked. "I guess it's March 1st today, so I'm taking a step in the right direction. But keep throwing it and keep throwing it and keep throwing it is all you can do because it's such a feel pitch that throwing it is the only way you're going to get better at throwing the pitch."
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The Nationals' right-hander said he was happy to get through his first start as he builds toward his first regular season outing.
"It's just going out there on the mound for the first time and facing another team. I was just basically trying to throw strikes and keep the ball down and whatever happens is going to happen. The first guy gets a hit and then I was able to get a ground ball and get a double play. It was quick, but I got a lot of work done."
The ground ball outs were a good sign for Zimmermann, whose ground ball percentage rose from 39.4% in 2011 and 43.4% in 2012 to a 47.6% last season, good for 16th amongst starters in the NL and second on the Nats' staff, behind only Stephen Strasburg, 51.5%.
"When I'm getting fly balls and base hits, the ball is usually up," Zimmermann said. "But when the ball is down I get a lot more ground balls and that's what you guys have seen me do."
The game went on for ever after the two starters left the mound. Zimmermann said he was excited to get through the outing and he's already looking forward to his next turn in the rotation.
"I'm right where I need to be. I feel great. The arm feels good. And probably throw three or four [innings] the next time out and slowly creep up with the pitches and then be ready to go for the first game this season."