Encouraging early season signs from Zimmermann and Detwiler

We’re only 13 games into the regular season, so we all need to be careful not to read too much into a starting pitcher’s numbers just yet. Teams are not even three turns through the rotation at this point, after all.

That said, we’ve seen some very encouraging signs from both Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler early in the 2013 campaign.

Zimmermann made his third start of the season last night, throwing the first nine-inning complete game in his career, and now has three quality starts in as many outings. Detwiler went six innings in his first start of the year, allowing just an unearned run, and threw seven stellar innings against the Braves on Friday, allowing just one run.

Perhaps just as impressive as the overall results that those two Nationals starters have posted to this point has been their pitch efficiency.

Zimmermann has thrown just 12.8 pitches per inning over his 22 frames this season, a total that ranks second in the majors among starting pitchers.

Detwiler isn’t too far behind; the left-hander has thrown 13.2 pitches per frame over his 13 innings, ranking him ninth among big league starters.

You hear pitchers all the time about how they want to be considered workhorses, guys that can go deep into games and save the bullpen, even on nights when they might not have their best stuff.

The best way to do that is keep your pitch count low. Davey Johnson might have a quick hook, especially early in the season. He might always be looking for an opportunity to let his starter leave on a high note and with a chance at a win. That’s just Johnson’s mentality.

But if Nationals starters can keep their pitch counts relatively low in the middle innings, Johnson will give them a chance to work into the seventh, eighth and - as we saw last night - ninth.

Zimmermann and Detwiler’s numbers almost certainly won’t stay this low over the course of the season; the most efficient starters usually average around 14.5 pitches per inning in a full year. But they’re off to a good start.

I had a talk with Gio Gonzalez back in spring training about how his goal, ideally, is to throw no more than 15 pitches in every inning. If he’s able to get through a frame on seven pitches, Gonzalez said, he sees that as giving himself more wiggle room late in games.

Last night, Zimmermann had five innings where he threw 10 pitches or fewer, and that included a five-pitch ninth. Those quick innings obviously allowed him to battle through some tougher frames, like in the seventh, when he needed 23 pitches to retire the side.

Looking to another crucial stat for starters, Zimmermann has an impressive ratio of 2.19 groundball outs to every air out this season. Detwiler’s groundout-to-air out ratio is 1.58, second-best among Nats starters.

Each guy has gotten three double play balls on the ground, tied for fourth-best in the bigs.

Keep your pitch count low and keep the ball on the ground. That’s a recipe for success, all right.

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