Knowing how often he'll be facing the Atlanta Braves this season, Jordan Zimmermann held back, limiting himself mostly to his fastball and changeup when he faced the Washington Nationals' NL East divisional rivals in each of his first two Grapefruit League starts.
The third time out, however, this afternoon in Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium, the 27-year-old, '07 2nd Round pick held nothing back when he went up against the New York Yankees and threw four hitless innings on 54 pitches, striking out four and inducing five ground ball outs from the 12 batters he went up against and set down.
"Really good," Matt Williams told reporters after the Nats' 3-2 win.
"Working fast, changing speeds, throwing strikes. It's more of the same. Today he was really good."
Through three starts, Zimmermann's thrown nine scoreless innings, allowing five hits and one walk while striking out nine batters. He told reporters he was happy to see another team than the Braves and happy to face a lineup that featured some of the Yankees' everyday players.
"The first four or five guys are pretty solid ballplayers," Zimmermann said. "I was just locating pretty good and I was mixing everything in today. I wasn't holding anything back. I threw some pretty good sliders down and in to [Jacoby] Ellsbury and [Brett] Gardner and they took them like they've been seeing them for many years and I couldn't believe that. But other than that everything went well. I threw some good changeups, fastball was good and I flipped a few curve balls in there too."
His slider was particularly sharp.
"It was good," Zimmermann said. "I had a few that were in the dirt and I'd get to two strikes and I'd try to backfoot it and they were a little down and that's probably why they weren't swinging at it, but overall I'm happy."
"I want to work on other things too besides fastball/changeup," the Nationals' five-year veteran said, "so it was good to face these guys and not have to hold everything back like I was against the Braves."
With just 54 pitches on his arm after four innings, Zimmermann was efficient and effective, putting together another strong outing coming off a (19-9) season in 2013 in which he worth +3.6 fWAR 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.
"He pounds the zone," the Nats' skipper told reporters. "He's getting his work done that's for sure."
Asked what Zimmermann needs to work on going forward, Williams joked that, "He needs to get some ABs and get deeper into games, that's about it."
"He's been really good every time out so, that's what we've seen though, we saw last year, what we continue to see. All three [pitches] for strikes when he wants them and balls when he wants them too and so that's been good."
Zimmermann said that in spite of his success today, the control wasn't quite where he wanted it.
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"Went pretty well," he said, "and first couple of innings I wasn't able to get ahead of guys like I wanted to. I was behind in the count and wasn't able to throw a first-pitch strike too often but I was pitching behind and you're going to have that during the year too."
There's a start or two this spring to go before Opening Day, but Zimmermann said today he felt ready to start the season. "I feel like I'm ready to go and now it's just building up the arm strength and getting up to 80-90 pitches before the season starts. My stuff is pretty sharp right now."
That's in part because he starts throwing so early in the winter as he prepares each offseason.
"I'm usually more ready than other guys at this time of the year," he said today. "I start throwing early and I want to be ready for Opening Day and I probably get ready too quick sometimes. Not saying that's why my second-half numbers are so bad, but I feel like I'm ready and want to get ready for the season."
Zimmermann held opposing hitters to a .222/.254/.341 line in his first 19 starts last season, over which he had a 2.58 ERA in 132 1/3 IP. In his final 13 outings, opponents posting a combined .265/.320/.492 line against him in 81 IP. In his career, Zimmermann has a 2.98 ERA in first-half starts and a 4.16 ERA after the All-Star Break.
He's told reporters this afternoon he was right where he wants to be right now.
"I feel like I'm in the rhythm I want to be in," Zimmermann said, "and I know I'm pitching every five days now and next time out I'll go probably go five innings and 75-80 pitches and maybe get one more start and try to get up to 100 pitches. I don't know what the plans are, but I'm happy where I'm at."
So will he be considered as the Nationals' Opening Day starter?
"Sure he will," Williams said when asked today, but he once again pointed to the Nats' off day on March 18th as a target for when he'll really arrange the rotation and set things up for Opening Day. "Of course he will," Williams repeated. "He won a whole bunch of games last year, 19 of them I think."
Zimmermann was asked if he cares at all about getting the nod on Opening Day?
"I don't really care when I pitch to be honest with you," Zimmermann said.