While Ian Desmond’s name was in the headline of FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal’s article this week about the Nationals being in the market for a young shortstop who could potentially replace the 28-year-old infielder if he leaves as a free agent after the 2015 campaign, Jordan Zimmermann’s name came up, as well.
The Nats’ 2007 second-round pick is due to become a free agent after next season.
Both Desmond and Zimmermann were rumored to be discussing long-term deals last winter before each agreed on smaller two-year deals that bought out their final years of arbitration eligibility.
Rosenthal wrote that the options at short in the organization were limited, so the Nationals could consider dealing the likes of catcher Sandy Leon, Zach Walters or Steven Souza to fill their perceived need. But they were less likely to deal from their pitching depth since the top two arms, A.J. Cole and Lucas Giolito, might be needed at some point in the future if Zimmermann were to hit free agency.
While the Nationals and their 28-year-old starter did discuss a long-term deal before agreeing on the two-year contract, Zimmermann said the larger offer wasn’t right and though both sides have said they remain open to the right deal if it can be agreed upon, he appears willing to test free agency rather than accept a hometown discount.
Meanwhile, the right-hander out of Auburndale, Wis., continues to pad his resume.
This week, Zimmermann was named to the National League All-Star roster for the second time and though he sat out last year’s Midsummer Classic after earning his first nod, choosing to rest his neck and prepare for the second half of the season instead, he appears likely to pitch at Minnesota’s Target Field this time around.
“It’s quite an honor for him,” Nats skipper Matt Williams told reporters Sunday after learning that Zimmermann was added to the team by St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.
“I think he’s earned it. He’s been fantastic for us and we’re happy for him that he has a chance to go represent us and be part of it. It’s a special thing, so he’ll have a lot of fun.”
While Zimmermann’s numbers this year are obviously impressive, Matheny was able to see up close and personal just how talented a pitcher Zimmermann really is in a June 13 start in Busch Stadium in which the right-hander threw an eight-inning complete game on just 76 pitches.
Williams talked about that outing and the likelihood of the righty pitching in the All-Star Game this summer while discussing Zimmermann’s All-Star selection in an MLB Network Radio interview this week.
While Zimmermann fought through a tough month of May, the outing in St. Louis was the third in stretch of strong June starts in which the right-hander began to turn his season around.
“Early in the season he didn’t have his slider,” Williams explained to hosts Jim Memolo and Todd Hollandsworth as he praised Zimmermann’s consistency. “He didn’t find (his slider) on an every-outing basis, but in the last month and a half, he’s found it. He won 19 games last year. He’s got a good power fastball and goes right after hitters and is able to work deep into games. He pitched a game in St. Louis where he pitched a complete game with 80-something pitches. At 94 mph, that’s kind Greg Maddux-esque. It’s like pounding the zone. Every time out there he’s given us a chance to win and that’s all you can ask. So we’re proud of him. We’re proud he’s been selected. We have to adjust our rotation a bit, but I still think he’ll get a chance to pitch in the All-Star Game.”
Earning a second chance to pitch in the showcase of the game’s top stars, Williams said, is special.
“Any time a player gets to go be a part of that it’s a special time,” the first-year manager and five-time All-Star said Sunday. “We’re looking forward to seeing him compete and we’re proud of him and he deserves it.”
Through 18 starts this season, Zimmermann is 6-4 with a 2.79 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 20 walks (1.64 walk/nine innings) and 96 srikeouts (7.88 strikeouts/nine innings) in 109 2/3 innings over which he’s been worth +2.8 fWAR. His ERA in the NL’s ninth-lowest. His FIP is the third-lowest, behind only the Cards’ Adam Wainwright (2.51 FIP) and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (1.58), and the same three pitchers are the top three in the same order in FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement so far in 2014.
In talking about his selection, Zimmermann deflected some of the praise, instead pointing toward all the people who helped him get there.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It’s a huge honor and I’m excited. I wouldn’t be going if it wasn’t for those that play defense behind me every day and the catchers calling the pitches. I throw the ball and I try to throw strikes and let the (hitters) put it in play. I don’t have high strikeout numbers. I let the batter put it in play and those guys make the plays behind me, so as much as it’s me going, it’s actually all these guys too.”
“Five weeks ago, I was thinking I’d be home having a little vacation coming up, but I just started throwing strikes and locating a lot better and the slider finally came back. I didn’t have it for a month and a half, and I was able to get that back and it’s a big pitch for me.”
Having found his slider and earned his second All-Star selection, Zimmermann is back where he should be, on the mound and in the All-Star Game, along with the other top stars in the majors.
Now how about ensuring he finishes his career in his adopted home ...
Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. Follow him on Twitter: @federalbaseball. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.