Zimmermann stuck his neck out for another Nats win

Jordan Zimmermann wanted to keep it quiet.

On the day he was supposed to pitch, the right-hander woke up in some pain.

His neck wasn’t feeling so good, but he didn’t want to make a big deal about it with a big game against the Phillies just hours away.

Manager Davey Johnson knew something was up when he saw Zimmermann in the clubhouse.

“Zimm woke up with a stiff neck today,” Johnson said. “He kind of hid it from me. I knew he had it. Nothing is ever hidden from the manager.

“After I did take him out, he did say, ‘Don’t say nothing to anybody,’ Johnson said. “That is not my style. I am not going to get caught saying nothing. He did a heck of job going out there and pitching with a stiff neck.”

Zimmermann knew his manager would tell the media.

“I figured that,” Zimmerman said.

But Zimmermann also did not want his teammates to know he was hurting.

“I think the fact that none of us knew he had a stiff neck probably says a lot right there,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche, who contributed a key RBI triple in the Nationals’ four-run fifth inning.

“That doesn’t surprise me. He is going out there regardless. His confidence is growing every start. I love watching him.”

The right-hander fought through the pain on a chilly night in D.C., ending up going seven innings, allowing only two run on six hits, with no walks and one strikeout on only 92 pitches, as the Nationals toppled the Phillies 5-2.

He won for the eighth time in 10 decisions and his ERA now is 1.71. Zimmermann is the first pitcher in the National League to reach eight wins.

But 10 hours before his start, he wasn’t so sure he would be able to get through a couple of innings, much less seven.

“I woke up this morning and had a little kink in my neck,” Zimmermann said. “I don’t know if it was from the plane ride or what. It was a cold night. It kept getting stiffer and stiffer. I didn’t really want to push it too much.”

The Phillies’ best chance to break the game open came in the fifth where they took a 2-1 lead over the Nationals. Philadelphia put together four hits in the frame, but plated just one run.

“I couldn’t really get the fastball to the left side of the plate,” Zimmermann said. “Other than that, it was good. I tried to get it inside to lefties and it would run back a little bit. In the fifth inning, I got into a little trouble, but I was able to get the ground ball which was a big help.”

Johnson monitored his winningest pitcher throughout the night, and knowing Zimmermann was hurting, was not going to push him too far.

“I kind of cut him shorter than I normally would,” Johnson said. “He still threw a heck of a ballgame. He is not one to say anything, but a cold night, I didn’t want to go any further with him.”

Johnson said the reason Zimmermann is better than he was even last season, when he won a career-high 12 games and sported a 2.94 ERA, is his aggressiveness.

“He is going after good hitters,” Johnson said. “He is making pitches. He uses both sides of the plate. He has got good, late movement, (with an) exploding fastball. He mixes in his breaking ball and throws it in a good spot.”

But does Zimmermann think the stiffness in his neck will linger into his next start? No way.

“It should be better by tomorrow and for sure the next day so nothing to worry about,” he said.

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