Asked what wasn't working for 28-year-old right-hander Jordan Zimmermann after he gave up seven hits, one a home run and four earned runs in six innings of work in a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in PNC Park a few weeks back, Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams told reporters the big problem for the '07 2nd Round pick was that his slider wasn't working.
"We talked about that earlier. It's just he doesn't have the real feel for the slider," Williams explained.
"Tonight he got hurt on a fastball for a double and then the changeup for a homer," Williams said. "He's been able throw his breaking balls for strikes, it's just the slider hasn't quite been there yet."
The next time out on the mound, Zimmermann went just five innings, throwing 80 pitches and giving up eight hits and four runs, three earned in an 8-5 loss to the Marlins.
"The ball is up in the strike zone a little bit," Williams told reporters after that outing.
"That's what I can see. He's aggressive. He's throwing strikes. He's not walking a bunch of people. They put together some nice at bats. If anything it's just a little bit elevated and it varies from inning to inning sometimes, but I'm not worried about him."
That start against the Marlins left Zimmermann with a 5.06 ERA, a 3.59 FIP and a .342/.376/.477 line against in 26 2/3 IP in May.
After the righty threw four scoreless in a rain-shortened start against LA to start the month, he gave up 33 hits and 16 runs, 15 earned (5.96 ERA) in four starts and 22 2/3 IP over which opponents put up a .344/.382/.490 line.
"I thought I threw the ball pretty well except for the fourth inning where I made some good pitches and I threw a fastball up about neck high to [Garret] Jones and he somehow hit the ball," Zimmermann told reporters.
"I thought I made some good pitches that inning too, but luck is just not on my side right now and these guys are squaring some balls up pretty hard and I have to keep grinding and somehow make my way through this."
Zimmermann's opponents' Batting Average on Ball in Play (BABIP) backed up his assertion that luck was not on his side in his recent outings. Heading into last night's start against the Philadelphia Phillies, the six-year veteran's .369 BABIP was 94 points higher than his 2013 BABIP (.275), and it was the highest BABIP among major league starters.
Last night in the nation's capital, however, Zimmermann was dominant over eight scoreless innings, scattering five hits, three of them in his final inning of work, and inducing 10 ground ball outs in what ended up a 7-0 win.
Zimmermann threw 102 pitches total, but he said he was still capable of going back out there for another inning when he talked to Johnny Holliday and Phil Wood on MASN's post game show.
"I wanted to go," Zimmermann said. "I kind of blew Matt Williams off, I walked past him and didn't really shake his hand, trying to give him the hint that I wanted to go back out there, but they wanted to get [Tyler Clippard] some work, he's been off for a few days, so I understand."
After the month he went through in May, it's no surprise Zimmermann wanted to keep pitching when things were working for him. Williams explained afterwards that it was the one pitch he hasn't had a feel for this season that allowed him to dominate the Phillies.
"I think it was slider," the first-year skipper said. "He threw a lot of sliders today for strikes. He has not really found it as we talked about, he throws some good ones, but it hasn't been consistent. Tonight it was really consistent, so he worked his changeup a little bit. Worked his sliders to the right-handers and was able to throw it for a strike, which was good."
Williams reiterated that he wasn't concerned about Zimmermann after the rough month of May, but he thought it was important for the right-hander to have a strong outing.
"For him it's important," Williams said.
"He's kept us in games and we've had chances to win and all of that, but tonight was a really good step for him because he was able to throw all of his pitches for strikes and he commanded the zone really well, so it's good."
Zimmermann improved to (4-2) on the year with last night's win. In 12 starts and 67 2/3 IP, he now has a 3.59 ERA, a 3.18 FIP, 14 walks (1.86 BB/9) and 54 Ks (7.18 K/9).