Washington—As the Washington Nationals have struggled to find consistency all season, the one sure thing this year has been the pitching of Jordan Zimmermann.
After his win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday night at Nationals Park, Zimmerman is now 12-3 with an ERA of 2.46. He has allowed more than three runs only three times this season, one of which was on Monday, and leads the National League in wins as the season approaches the All-Star break.
What a difference run support makes for a starting pitcher.
In 2011, Zimmermann finished the year 8-11 with an ERA of 3.18 in 26 starts as he was on a pitch limit in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery and his run support that year was 3.31 runs per game.
In 2012, the right-hander got a little more than a run-and-a-half more per game (4.91) and his record showed it as he went 12-8 with an ERA of 2.94 in 195 2/3 innings
In Zimmermann’s 17 starts this year, the Nationals are averaging 4.7 runs per game and he is making the most of that support.
“It’s definitely a lot easier to pitch and obviously I have been getting that this year,” Zimmermann said. “I have also been pitching pretty good and I have been trying to put up as many zeroes as I can during the game and I feel like I am doing a pretty good job right now.”
Contrast that with the run support for Stephen Strasburg who won 15 games a year ago. Strasburg is 4-6 in 16 starts and has pitched to a ridiculous ERA of 2.24 and his run support is a paltry 2.44 runs per games.
It does make a difference.
Zimmermann is finally getting the recognition he deserves. It’s not that he hasn’t pitched well in the past but now with his record being what it is, people around baseball are starting to take notice.
In fact, over the last two weeks, Zimmermann has tried to shy away from questions about whether or not he is All-Star worthy, although he says it is hard not to think about the possibility of him being on the National League team at Citi Field in New York.
” Yeah, I think it’s possible,” he said. “I’ve had the best first half of my career and I think 12 wins is quite a big number for only the first half and I think I have a couple of starts left so who knows what’s going to happen.”
Teammate Ian Desmond agrees and went as far as to say Zimmermann should start the game.
“It would be a great honor to go there and represent the Nationals,” said Zimmermann. “It would be a huge honor if I could start the game or just being in the game so we’ll see what happens.”
The most amazing thing about Zimmermann’s progression is he looks basically the same as he did three years ago. Coming off last season, he decided he was going to work on the change-up and make it a bigger part of his repertoire and it has become a devastating pitch for hitters to try and adjust to.
“Just throwing it every day and working on it every day, it’s a feel pitch and the more you work on it, the better you feel,” he said. “I am to the point where I feel comfortable throwing it in any count, at any time. Any time I feel the hitter is sitting on the fastball and I throw that thing in there, I feel like there will be a swing and a miss or weak contact so, it’s been a pretty decent pitch for me.
“I threw it to Cargo (Carlos Gonzalez) the other day and he was way out in front and swung and miss. Then he looks back up at the scoreboard and sees the speed of it and he’s like, “what was that?” So the next time I face him that will be in the back of his mind and give him another thing to worry about.”
The Nationals stand a full seven games in back of the Braves in the NL East as play started on Wednesday and they have been battling to stay afloat. Zimmermann says the team is not in a panic mode and feels like they are not in bad shape as the second half begins.
“Obviously, we aren’t playing the best ball and people outside our team are starting to panic and wondering what’s going on but we’re in a good position right now. We are just a few games back and there are a lot of games to be played and all it takes is a good five or six game winning streak and the Braves to lose a few here and there and you are right back in it. So, I don’t think its anywhere near time to push the panic button because I think we are right where we need to be.
If he continues to pitch like he has, he may be right.
Craig Heist has covered sports in the Baltimore/Washington corridor since 1988. He worked for WTOP Radio from 1999 April of this year. He is currently a freelance reporter for several radio networks. Craig is a three-time winner of the Maryland Sportscaster of the year presented by the National Association of Sportswriters and Sportscaster and voted on by his peers. Heist is also an regional Edward R. Murrow award winner.