May 29, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
If there was one guy on the roster coming out of spring training that gave the Nationals no cause for concern, it was Jordan Zimmermann. The right-hander had been a model of consistency and success for three seasons, and there was no reason to believe anything would be different this time around.
Well, two months in, something most definitely is different. Zimmermann has been anything but consistently successful, and Wednesday night’s performance was only the latest example. Pulled after allowing four runs (three earned) and eight hits in only five innings, he dug the Nationals into a 4-0 hole.
And this was nothing new for Zimmermann, who has now allowed at least four runs in four consecutive starts for the first time since he was a rookie in 2009.
“I thought I threw the ball pretty well except for the fourth inning (when all four runs scored),” he said. “I made some good pitches. I threw a fastball up about neck-high to (Garret) Jones and he somehow hit the ball (for an RBI single). I thought I made some good pitches that inning. Luck’s just not on my side right now, and these guys are squaring some balls up pretty hard. I have to keep grinding and some how make my way through this.”
“This” is the worst prolonged stretch by Zimmermann in quit some time. With the season one-third complete, he now sports a 4.07 ERA, having put 90 men on base in 59 2/3 innings. His 1.46 WHIP ranks 87th out of 101 qualifying starting pitchers in the major leagues so far this year. This from a guy who from 2011-13 ranked 11th in the majors in that category.
Zimmermann also isn’t giving manager Matt Williams the innings he expected. He has completed seven innings only twice in 11 starts this season. Compare that to 2013, when the right-hander completed seven innings 19 times in 32 starts.
So, what’s the explanation behind Zimmermann’s struggles? The good news is that he doesn’t appear to be dealing with any kind of injury. His fastball velocity remains right on target; he’s averaging 93.7 mph this season, 93.5 mph for his career. He has reported no discomfort.
“I’m not worried about him,” Williams said. “His velocity is good. His bullpens have been great. So I don’t see any trend, other than tonight he left a couple balls up and they took advantage of it.”
That, more than anything, appears to be the issue. Zimmermann’s command hasn’t been as sharp as it has been in the past, leading to plenty of hittable pitches. Opponents are now batting .307 against him, this after hitting a scant .247 off him over the previous three seasons.
Zimmermann suggested he’s been the victim of some bad luck, and there may be something to that. Opponents are hitting a whopping .369 against him on balls in play, an increase of 77 points over his career BABIP.
“My stuff’s there,” he said. “The fourth inning, (Derek) Dietrich led off with a fastball down and away for a base hit. Jones got a hit on a high fastball that was a foot out of the zone. (Casey) McGehee was a high fastball. I went back and looked at the film and I made some pretty good pitches. (Marcell) Ozuna was a curveball away. He’s usually pretty bad on curveballs, and he hits a rocket right back up the middle. I’m making good pitches where I want. They’re just squaring the ball up right now.”
It’s something opposing hitters haven’t done to Zimmermann much at all in his career. Now, he and the Nationals can only hope things revert back to form soon.
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