Jordan Zimmermann talked to MLB Network Radio hosts Jeff Joyce and Mel Antonen Saturday afternoon, after he'd thrown 99 pitches (59 strikes) over 6.1 innings to earn a curly-W in the Washington Nationals' 4-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles. The 25-year-old right-hander, who allowed eight hits but just two runs, said that the mood has changed inside the Nats' clubhouse, with the streaking squad winning their eighth straight game on Saturday.
"Everyone's upbeat and excited," Zimmermann said, "we'd like to play another game or two and get things moving here. Everyone's pitching well and hitting well, and we're just playing good ball right now." The Nats' '07 2nd Round pick out of Wisconsin-Stevens Point said, "throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters, and mixing in my other pitches and getting quick outs," has helped him go longer into games, (he's pitched into the 7th in six of his last seven starts) than in previous seasons, and 14 starts into this season, Zimmermann's looking like the top of the rotation arm Nats' scouts expected him to be before he had Tommy John surgery...
Zimmermann labored a bit more to get through his start on Saturday than he had in recent outings, striking out only two after recording 10 K's the last time out against San Diego, and he said he, "fell behind a lot of guys and didn't have my best stuff,"(though the Pitch f/x cameras would say it may have been a problem with the ump's zone instead of the pitcher), but he kept the Nats close against the O's '08 1st Round pick Brian Matusz, and held it together long enough for the Nationals to get the lead. "I got through six with the stuff that I had, and just gave the team a chance to win and Mike Morse came through again."
Having Ryan Zimmerman, (no relation, one less "n"), (who homered Saturday for the first time since returning from the DL), back in the Nats' lineup is "huge" Zimmermann said, "He's a huge bat and it gives us a big lift in the lineup and you know that you have [Jayson] Werth, [Zimmerman] and Morse that can strike and hit a home run at any time, and everyone is swinging the bat really well right now and it's a good sign that the bats finally came around and the pitching's still there, so we're putting together a good little run here."
Saturday's start was Zimmermann's second since Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman started batting his pitchers eighth and the Nats' started winning, and the pitcher (who went 0 for 3) said it doesn't matter to him where he hits. "It [doesn't] really matter to any of us pitchers," Zimmermann said, "Ever since he made the switch we've been winning, so I guess don't fix it if it's not broke."
Zimmermann's made some changes on the mound, however, with the MLB Network's Mr. Joyce pointing out that the right-hander has thrown significantly more sliders this season (24.1% this year up from 10.8% last year as he recovered from TJS and 16.1% in his rookie campaign in '09). Asked if the jump in the number of breaking balls he's throwing is due to the increased confidence that comes with pitching in his second-season back from surgery Zimmermann said, "Yeah. I'm fully healed and I feel I can throw any pitch at any time in any count and I have confidence in all my pitches. I don't know what the numbers say, but I feel like I get ahead with the fastball and try to put guys away with the slider or the curve ball in the dirt, and it's been working so far."
Saturday's win left Zimmermann (5-6) in 14 starts and 86.2 IP in which the right-hander has walked just 18 (1.87 BB/9) and struck out 63 (6.54 K/9). The right-hander put in the same work Stephen Strasburg's doing right now, worked his way back and is at this point agruably the best starter on the Nats' roster. Zimmermann's a model for the return Strasburg's hoping to make, and he says he's talked to the '09 no.1 overall pick and told him it's simple. "I just tell him to work hard," Zimmermann said, "and do all your work and maybe go a little overboard with your work, and you know Stephen, he's going to bust his tail and do everything possible to get back and from what I hear he's been doing a great job and everything's feels fine, so I think he's right on track."
When D.C. GM Mike Rizzo talked to Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore this past winter after returning from the GM Meetings in November, about the difficulty of acquiring top-of-the-rotation arms on the open market, for an article entitled, "The Nationals' search for a top starter won't be easy", the architect of Phase Two of the Nats' push toward respectability conceded that they might just have to wait, "until  to obtain it, and Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann become that 1 and 2 and supplement it in 2012." The pitching market this winter, however, looks relatively weak, with some speculating that Jason Marquis (after C.C. Sabathia if he opts out in NY) could be one of the top available arms...but Marquis did say he would like to stay in D.C., recently didn't he? He'd make an interesting 3-4 in a Strasburg and Zimmermann rotation...