Throughout Spring Training and before his first start of the 2013 season, when it came to 27-year-old Washington Nationals' right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, the talk was about the '07 2nd Round pick getting more comfortable with his changeup and giving opposing hitters one more thing to think about when preparing to face the hard-throwing Nats' starter. Davey Johnson cautioned, however, that until Zimmermann threw it on a consistent basis and had success with it, it wasn't a weapon. "It probably won't be there until he has success during the regular season," Johnson said, "It's one thing to experiment with something, but until you get a real good comfort feeling, you've got to be successful during the regular season. So, it will be interesting how he uses that. It will be strictly up to him."
Zimmermann's thrown the pitch just 3.9% of the time this year, up from 2.2% in each of the previous two seasons. Of the 112 pitches the Nationals' starter threw Thursday night in Nationals Park, just four were changeups, but he saved the best for last, dropping a devastating 88 mph 2-2 change on Rockies' outfielder Carlos Gonzalez in the top of the eighth with two runners on in what was then a 5-1 game after an Anthony Rendon error led to the Rockies' first and only run coming around. Carlos Gonzalez was clearly looking fastball when he got Zimmermann's change and he had no chance. Zimmermann threw four more pitches after that at bat, striking Michael Cuddyer out for the ninth strikeout of the night and stranding both runners in his final inning of work.
• Zimmermann's change to CarGo at the :50 mark:
"He's got some great outs with it," Davey Johnson told reporters tonight when asked about the change Zimmermann threw to Gonzalez. "I mean, it's a great pitch, he's got such an explosive fastball and when they throw them that in a tight situation, it really fools them. But, what a game he pitched. We needed it. An eleven inning game last night. And all my guys, I've been using them a lot late in a lot of close ballgames, just to stay close and give our offense a chance to win it." Zimmermann's start tonight, as Johnson put it, "That was a godsend."
"He took the bull by the horns," Johnson said of Zimmermann's eight-inning outing against the Rockies which earned the right-hander his tenth win of the year.
"I mean, throwing 95 at the end," Johnson continued, clearly impressed, "outstanding effort." And it came a start after Zimmermann gave up eight hits and six runs in five innings on the road in Progressive Field in Cleveland, where the Nationals played the Indians under AL rules. "On both Cleveland and Baltimore he was saying, 'I missed the pitcher in the lineup,'" Johnson said, "but in both those cases I still thought he was still throwing good, he just made bad pitches to a pretty good-hitting lineup. But he had some good hitters up there today and he made awfully good pitches. With a heck of a lot on it. He did redeem himself."
Zimmermann's line: 8.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 Ks, 112 pitches, 85 strikes, 6/4 GO/FO.
Zimmermann gave up one and two-out singles in the first, but completed a scoreless 15-pitch frame. Todd Helton singled to start the second, but a 5-4-3 DP and line drive to Ian Desmond at short followed and Zimmermann was through two on 28 pitches. 16 straight outs followed before Nolan Arenado's two-out single off the Nats' starter in the top of the seventh. Todd Helton singled in the next at bat, but when Zimmermann got a groundout to Ryan Zimmerman and a force at third to end the seventh, he was at 89 pitches overall.
The first and only free pass Zimmermann gave up was a one-out walk to pinch hitter Josh Rutledge in the Rockies' eighth. Anthony Rendon tried to make a difficult play on a Tyler Colvin grounder in the next at bat and threw one by Ian Desmond going for the force at second. The error put runners on first and third and a single to center by DJ LeMahieu brought in Colorado's lone run. Zimmermann got Carlos Gonzalez with the change and struck Michael Cuddyer out with his 112th pitch. With the win, Zimmermann improved to (10-3) on the year and lowered his ERA to 2.26 and his FIP to 3.11 in 15 starts and 107.2 IP in which he's walked 15 (1.25 BB/9) and struck out 76 (6.35 K/9). The start also extended his unbeaten streak at home to 19-straight starts going back to last May 17th.
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