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Zimmermann back on track with 8 scoreless innings

Jun 4, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

AP AP

Not that ever doubted himself, but given his recent struggles, Jordan Zimmermann understood the importance of his dominant start last night against the Phillies.

“It was big,” the right-hander admitted after tossing eight scoreless innings in the Nationals’ 7-0 blowout win. “May was a pretty rough month for me. Hopefully June has better things to come.”

If last night’s start was a sign of things to come, June (and perhaps future months) could be very good to Zimmermann. Coming off a stretch of four straight rough outings, he entered this one with a surprisingly high 4.07 ERA and questions about the manner in which opposing hitters were making consistently solid contact off him.

But from the get-go last night, it was clear Zimmermann was back on track. He retired the side in the top of the first, then cruised through his first seven innings, never allowing more than one man to reach base in any given frame.

The difference?

“I think his slider,” manager Matt Williams said. “He threw a lot of sliders today for strikes. He really has not really found it, as we talked about. He’s thrown some good ones, but it hasn’t been consistent. Tonight was really consistent.”

Zimmermann agreed, though he felt like there was more to this performance than the effectiveness of one of his breaking balls.

“That, and I was actually hitting my location,” he said. “When I wanted to throw a ball, I was throwing a ball and not leaving it over the middle. … It was one of those nights where it was fun to be out there and everything was working.”

There haven’t been all that many fun nights for Zimmermann so far in 2014. He had completed seven innings only twice in 11 starts this season and had averaged only 5 1/3 innings over his last five.

So when he completed seven innings last night on 89 pitches, with the Nationals comfortably ahead, he had his sights on his first complete game of the year. Those hopes were dashed after a bit of a ragged eighth innings in which two men reached base before he buckled down and stranded both in scoring position to keep the shutout intact. But eight innings of scoreless, 6-hit ball on 102 pitches were satisfactory for Zimmermann.

“I wanted to go nine,” he said. “But eight will be good enough.”

So, was this was the start of something really good for Zimmermann? Or was this merely one strong outing against a weak Phillies lineup? The Nationals don’t know yet.

But they do know this was significant for the right-hander. If nothing else, it was a reminder that despite his recent struggles, he still has a dominant performance in him.

“For him, it’s important,” Williams said. “He’s kept us in games, and we’ve had chances to win and all of that. But tonight was a really good step for him, because he was able to throw all of his pitches for strikes and he was able to command the zone really well. So it’s good.”

 

  1. chaz11963 - Jun 4, 2014 at 10:27 AM

    Impressive performance by ZNN, looking like his old self again. Five hits over 8 innings with only one BB and ZERO runs; his Ks were a little low and they did hit some line drives off of him, but really can’t have any complaints about that performance.

  2. mwsmith13 - Jun 4, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    He looked good out there. Most of the hits were in the 8th inning and through 7 he was wonderful.
    Personally I hated the challenge on the safe at first call. Zimmermann was dogging it covering first and deserved to give that up (or at least not have it overturned).

  3. jd - Jun 4, 2014 at 10:42 AM

    The difference between last night and some of the other nights was that more balls hit into play were caught. He was sharper last night but there’s an element of luck involved as well.

    At the beginning of last year when he looked like a Cy Young candidate I pointed out that his BABIP is unsustainably low in other words he is not pitching as well as his record indicates.This year has been the exact opposite, his BABIP is way higher than his career norms so in fact he hasn’t pitched as badly as his record would have you believe he has just pitched in some bad luck.

    • chaz11963 - Jun 4, 2014 at 10:47 AM

      Very true jd. It had to even out eventually, he’s not been pitching as bad as the numbers would indicate.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 10:55 AM

      You are wrong on JZim’s BABIP because you still don’t recognize good contact vs poor contact. It’s difficult to center the late break on JZim fastball and slider when he’s throwing well. For a pitch to contact philosophy to work you need good defense and he got it last night.

      Read the stats on his slider. 7 put into play and only 1 found grass. 66 fastballs thrown and until the 8th inning only 1 found grass.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:12 AM

        We can go on to say Greinke is lucky and Cueto is lucky and Tim Hudson is lucky and maybe even the new version of Chris Young who is 6th in the Majors in BAA.

        I think luck evens out and pitch quality and team defense are the 2 main factors that will always set the good and great pitchers apart.

        The Nats in 2013 had the WORST corner infield team defense in the Majors. How do you explain JZims effectiveness in 2013, maybe give him credit for being darn good. Sample size is large enough that luck evens out. I still believe watching that he got lousy defense behind him in 2013 and so did the rest of the pitchers with Taylor Jordan leading the group in unlucky because the only way to know it is by watching.

      • jd - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:40 AM

        I do recognize the difference. I also know that no pitcher is good enough to induce .220 BABIP which is what JZIm was sporting early last year. His career numbers indicate that he can carry a .280 to .290 BABIP which supports your point that less of his balls hit into play are hits than other less proficient pitchers. His BABIP this year is .349 which to a large degree points to bad luck.

        I am in no way belittling your pitching analysis based on defense, all I’m saying is that Jordan Zimmermann ain’t as good as he looked at the beginning of last year and he ain’t as bad as his numbers have looked at the beginning of this year. His K to BB ratios are still solid, his HR per 9 innings is at career norms etc.

        People in the know understand that he’s a very solid no. 2 and most teams would love to have him.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:54 AM

        Glad we agree then and yes .220 isn’t easy to sustain by anyone although I still think JZim coukd be a .250 pitcher.

      • jd - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:44 AM

        You better believe Cueto is lucky with a .186 BABIP. Greinke at .306 is not, he’s just good.

        Let’s revisit Tim Hudson at the end of the year when his ERA is near 3.5 (career norms) instead of the current 1.75.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:58 AM

        History says you’re right. Hudson has been healthy and making the cavernous outfield in SFG work to his advantage. I just hope the Nats don’t have to face him on the trip there next week.

  4. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 10:46 AM

    I still think when you 25% of your starts you give up 0 runs and 42% of 1 earned or less, we are perhaps only looking at yesterday which was certainly on paper his best start of the season.

    Other than JZim’s April 9th start I can point to crucial defensive mishaps that turned good starts into bad starts instantly.

    If LaRoche doesn’t snag Ryan Howard’s groundout to start the 2nd or Espi’s nifty robbery on Brignac in the 2nd, I think JZim could’ve unraveled there.

    Was the slider better yesterday? Yes it was. They only made contact in fair territory on 7 of the 22 strikes on sliders. JZim had his best 85% strikes on his 26 sliders which is a really good %.

    Just last week someone suggested trading JZim and someone else called him the 5th starter for the Nats. All I know is the Nats have a .583 win % behind JZim starts and that’s the 95 win pace. If all the pitchers achieved that, the Nats go to the playoffs.

    • David Proctor - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:09 AM

      “or Espi’s nifty robbery on Brignac in the 2nd, I think JZim could’ve unraveled there.”

      And that’s why Espi is on the team. Ask any of the pitchers what infield defense they want and they’ll say Rendon, Desmond, Espinosa, LaRoche. Tons of teams carry no-hit, glove defensive players, including championship teams. It’s easier to stomach it now when he’s hitting 8th and he’s not expected to do much with Zim back. I expect an out from him and when he gets on as he did yesterday that’s a nice plus. His value is in his defense.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:16 AM

        I’ve totally changed my view this year on that and agree with you. Frandsen is awful in infield defense. I never knew how bad until I saw him play a few innings.

        I will say Rendon is an above average 2nd baseman but Danny has an instinctual 1st move and now is laying out for balls to get to everything now.

      • kirbs3256 - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:44 AM

        The real qursyion is, if everyone is healthy when Bryce comes back, does Zim play 2nd??

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:09 PM

        That is indeed the qursyion.

      • Section 222 - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:46 PM

        DP, Espi is 17th in batting average and 18th in OBP and wRC+ among NL 2Bs with 60 or more plate appearances. He’s 16th in WAR, so his defense isn’t adding that much to his value. He’s No. 1 in K% (33.5%), not only in the NL, but in all of baseball. Since May 1, his K% is 43.6%. He’s not just a no-hit player, he’s a liability. I don’t disagree that pitchers would prefer his defense, but I’m not so sure they would prefer that he continue to start now that Zim is back. I mean, they do want to win games, right? He has to be able to make contact.

  5. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    There were 22 pitchers ahead of JZim in pitchers BABIP last year. JZim was at .265 and Strasburg was 9th in the Majors at .251 Does anyone say Strasburg was lucky?

    Besides Jeff Locke who was 21st on the list, there isn’t a single pitcher I would say didn’t earn their BABIP in that Top 25.

    • jd - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      No argument there. But you have to admit there’s a certain element of luck involved (maybe a little more than that) when a ball is hit into play.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:56 AM

        There is always luck but that’s where Weidemaier is supposed to pay dividends! Over a full season luck, good and bad, is supposed to even out.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:08 PM

        Most of our starting rotation right now sports BABIPs well over their career norms–Stras (.359 on the season, .299 career), JZimm (.349 vs .294), Gio (.312 vs .287). That’s a 30 to 60 pt increase for each of those guys.

        There are reasons you can give for this or that pitcher, but it’s striking that it’s true of all 3 of them. And that’s with an IF defense that is probably better this year than last year, tho the OF defense is worse.

        I do expect it to even out over the year, and those #s to come back towards career averages.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:17 PM

        HAS the defense been better? I am, as always, too lazy to look it up, but it seems, as Ghost described above about Znn, they’ve certainly gotten some bad breaks there.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:24 PM

        Bad breaks, bad luck and clearly no statistics to back up Weidemaier has had a positive impact. In fact it’s clear it’s been negative.

        Werth has been the one who has been the culprit this year but too many balls are going up the middle also that Desi is too often out if position. Still waiting to see Weidemaier making a difference. BABIP says he’s hurt more than helped.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:38 PM

        Sofa

        I think the defensive metrics are tricky over smaller sample sizes and because there are different ones, standard and advanced, and they don’t always pt in the same direction.

        But overall, I would say yes, the IF defense is better if you look at errors and DRS, and I think my own eye test would agree–certainly better at 3B and 2B, to a lesser extent at 1B. I would say SS–Desi–is the only thing that looks as bad or worse.

  6. Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    The other difference is, this was against a struggling-near-to-imploding Phillies lineup. Obviously, the Marlins are not sharing the signs they’ve stolen.

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