Jordan Zimmermann's second start of 2013 ended after seven innings and 90 pitches last Wednesday night in the Washington Nationals' 5-2 win over the Chicago White Sox. Afterwards the 26-year-old starter was asked if he expected Nats' skipper Davey Johnson to leave him in longer as the season goes on. The '07 2nd Round pick has gone beyond the seventh just once in his pro career, back on June 29, 2011 when he threw 8.0 innings in a loss to the LA Angels on the road in Anaheim for his only complete game at any level of professional baseball. Zimmermann told reporters last week, however, that he understood his manager's decision to lift him after seven strong against the Sox since it's still early in the season. "It's still early in the year," Zimmermann said, "I've thrown 90 a couple of times, so I think we're trying to build up a bit yet, and later in the year I think he'll let me go a little longer."
Zimmermann told reporters there was no discussion with his manager about staying in the game. "He just came over and send good game, and you're done" the right-hander said.
Davey Johnson told reporters before Opening Day that he always handles his pitchers this way. "I dial it back on a lot of my starting pitchers early, whether he's young or old," Johnson said, and he judges each pitcher independently, keeping a close eye on their stuff as they build arm strength in their first few outings. "There [are] no restrictions on anybody," the 70-year-old in his 17th season as a manager explained, "and each of them is... you handle them a little differently as far as when their pitch count is getting up there. But mostly I just read pitchers and if I see stuff coming up, if I see the curve ball staying up, if I see the hitters getting on him pretty good, I generally make a change then."
The "no restrictions" talk is, of course, in reference to another Nationals' starter, Stephen Strasburg, whose early shutdown in his first full-year back from Tommy John surgery was the big story in the nation's capital and the baseball world throughout the Nats' run to the division title last year. The Nationals, as planned from the previous January, didn't have Strasburg at the end since he was shut down for the year in early September.
Strasburg, who'd gone seven innings five times before this season, but never eight in any of his 45 career starts before this year, threw 7.0 scoreless on Opening Day. Strasburg was at just 80 pitches when the Nationals' manager went to the pen to the dismay of many in the baseball world. In the right-hander's second start he threw 114 pitches in just 5.1 IP, giving up nine hits, four walks and six earned runs before he was lifted.
• Strasburg's Magic Changeup To The Reds' Joey Votto via CBSSports.com's Dayn Perry:
Though there are "no restrictions" on Strasburg this year, Davey Johnson has still been careful with the '09 no.1 overall pick in his first two starts, but no more careful than he's been with any other pitcher on the Nats' staff according to the Nationals' GM, Mike Rizzo.
"Davey handled that 24-year-old starting pitcher like he would handle any 24-year-old starting pitcher that's in the same situation as Stras is," the general manager told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier on The Mike Rizzo Show this past week. "There's no limitations. There's no restrictions. And, you know, Davey's a pretty good manager, been doing it a long time, better than you two guys, better than a lot of the media people out there and he's going to handle the team the way he sees fit. And because of the limits we put on him last year, people are questioning all sorts of things, but I'm going to go with what Davey says and kind of disregard the rest of the noise."
The 106.7 the FAN hosts talked to Stephen Strasburg this week as well, and they asked the Nationals' no.1 starter if he thought his manager would eventually let him throw a complete game. "Hopefully Davey will loosen the leash a little bit here at some point and let me go past the seventh," Strasburg said with a laugh. "So I think I’m more focused on the eighth inning right now." After he goes eight the complete game will be the next step. The Nats' starter began the season saying his goal was to become more efficient with his pitches. If he goes seven on 80 pitches again this year he might just get the chance to record his own first complete game.
Strasburg makes his third start of the year this afternoon against Atlanta. If he throws a complete game against the Braves he'll be the fourth pitcher to do so in 2013, joining the Cardinals' Jake Westbrook, the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and the Indians' Justin Masterson as the only pitches with CGs so far this season.