LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Jordan Zimmermann has been working on his changeup for three years now.
He's struggled to get a good feel of the pitch in the past, had issues finding the right arm action and searched for the proper velocity to maximize the changeup's effectiveness.
Zimmermann didn't trust his changeup last year, and therefore threw it just 2.2 percent of the time.
"It feels really, really good right now," Zimmermann said following tonight's start against the Braves. "I wanted to throw it about every pitch if I could, but I know that wasn't the right thing to do."
Zimmermann threw six changeups among his 49 pitches tonight, and he liked how all of them felt. Only one didn't get a positive result - one he threw to Juan Francisco in the second inning that resulted in a line drive single up the middle. Even there, Zimmermann could easily pinpoint the issue.
"I threw a curveball to Francisco for a strike (and) I came back with a changeup, so I slowed his bat up and then I came back with a changeup," Zimmermann said. "Obviously, not the right thing to do, and he hit that one back at me. Other than that I felt good. The fastball was good and offspeed was really good."
It might have taken Zimmermann years to start feeling confident in his changeup, but that confidence has skyrocketed rather quickly in the last few weeks or so.
In his two starts so far this spring, Zimmermann has had great feel of the change, and the velocity of the pitch is right where he wants it - at about 83-85 mph, or somewhere around 10 mph slower than his fastball.
"It was obviously not good last year, and I didn't throw it nearly enough," Zimmermann said. "I really worked on it a lot this offseason. It felt good when I was throwing it this offseason. I kept working on it, working on it. The big thing for me, I was just cutting it off instead of reaching out and extending. That's the big thing, where you get the speed drop. When I was cutting it off, I had no control and it was way too hard. Obviously, it's a lot slower now. I have a lot better feel for it."
Zimmermann threw 39 strikes among his 49 pitches, but said that the high strike-to-ball ratio was mainly because he was trying to get after hitters, even when he was ahead in the count.
"I was just trying to attack," Zimmermann said. "During the season I'm going to throw more balls, but I wanted to try working on sitting on the corner and obviously throwing everything for strikes. I get two strikes during the season, I'm going to throw some balls and mix it up, but I was just trying to get some work in."
Jason Heyward delivered the only extra-base hit off Zimmermann, a solo homer crushed to left.
"I fell behind on the first pitch and came back with a fastball away," Zimmermann said. "He's good the opposite way. I came in his second at-bat and broke his bat and jammed him. All in all, it's a good outing and I'm happy with it."
The Nationals put up a five-spot in the eighth inning thanks largely to a Carlos Rivero bases-clearing double, and have a 6-4 lead going into the bottom of the ninth.
Jeremy Accardo is on for the save and will try to prevent yet another extra-inning game.
Update: Accardo made things interesting, allowing a run and loading the bases with two outs, but he got a first-pitch comebacker to end the ballgame.
Nats win 6-5.