Big season for Zimmermann sets Nats up nicely for 2012

Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann expects big things from himself this season after missing most of 2010 rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery.

There was that moment last year that had him - and the Nationals - hopeful. On the mound in Single-A Frederick, the opposing pitcher was laboring in sizzling, summer heat and drawing out each inning.

Then Zimmermann, pitching for Potomac, took to the hill and fired crisp, on-target fast balls and knee-buckling changeups, attacking and befuddling the Keys hitters who were quickly dispatched.

Behind the plate, the scout's radar gun told the story: 96 mph. The 24-year-old Zimmermann was a picture of efficiency a mere 13 months after ligament replacement surgery.

Fast forward to the final 37 days of the 2010 season: Zimmermann had seven starts, won one game and struck 27 batters. He has recorded just 23 starts in his career since 2009. That mark could be eclipsed with just one full, unencumbered, wire-to-wire season in 2011.

Can he put together 30 to 35 starts this season? Or does the coaching staff have to wait and see with Zimmermann? Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty thinks Zimmermann is ready for the long haul.

"In my mind right now, I don't have to wait for anything," McCatty said. "There is no anticipation of any problems whatsoever. Zimm is going to start. In my mind ... I know we haven't played one single game. But as long as he is healthy, this a quality, quality pitcher we are talking about."

McCatty maintains the coaching staff is well aware that this will be Zimmermann's first full season with the Nationals after Tommy John. They will be relatively cautious with him, but they also won't hold him back.

"He is going to be out there as long as his health maintains," McCatty said of Zimmermann. "Again, we are so conscious about how many innings everybody is going to go and it's been so long since they pitched. We really haven't had too much of a chance to talk about that, but he is going to be out there."

A start-to-finish campaign for Zimmermann would go a long way in helping the Nationals correct a weakness in starting pitching and set up the rotation nicely to become a force with the return of you-know-who in 2012.

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