Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann makes his 2011 debut Sunday at Nationals Park as Washington wraps up its three-game set with the Atlanta Braves.
Zimmermann was 1-2 with a 4.94 ERA last season. He will be opposed by Braves right-hander Tim Hudson (17-9, 2.83 ERA).
Zimmermann's first career start was a win against the Braves on April 20, 2009. After successfully rehabbing from ligament replacement surgery, Zimmermann made seven starts for the Nationals in 2010.
Sunday marks Zimmermann's earliest start in a major league season.
"It is great," Zimmermann said. "I am excited and ready to go. My arm feels good. Hopefully, the weather cooperates so we can get the game in and see what happens. Spring training went well for me. The arm was good the whole time. It is strong and healthy."
Zimmermann said his final two weeks in Viera, Fla., went well and he felt his command and location were on target.
"The last couple of starts, the velocity is real good and the command is the best it has been in spring training," Zimmermann said. "I think that is a good sign. It is hit or miss on which one is going to be better that day, the curveball or the slider. We will see what happens on Sunday. Hopefully, I got them both. If not, one should be good enough."
Late last season, Zimmermann concentrated on refining his changeup in his minor league starts to get the speed around 10 miles per hour below his fastball.
"The changeup is a huge pitch," Zimmermann said. "It is been a little tough for me to pick up. Growing up, I went to a Division III school, so I didn't really need it. It is something I have been learning to throw. It has been coming along pretty well. I have confidence I can throw it whenever. It is not always going to have the speed differential that I would like, but as long as I have control of it, that is the main thing."
The name of the game for Zimmermann is to stay out there as long as it takes to get the job done. He said it also is reassuring to know there will not be inning or pitch restrictions to protect his surgically repaired arm.
"You always want to keep your pitch count down," Zimmermann said. "That has been a big thing for me. In spring training, I have been throwing a lot of pitches during each inning so if I can keep the pitch count down that will help me get into the sixth, seventh or eighth inning, hopefully."
The gametime temperature expected to be around 60 degrees for Zimmermann on Sunday, but even if it does turn colder, the Auburndale, Wisc., native can handle chilly conditions.
"Cold weather doesn't affect me too much," Zimmermann said. "I have pitched in a lot of cold weather games before. I threw in a blizzard a couple of times, so this weather right here is nothing I haven't seen before."