Ian Desmond said last night that if he was picking the starting pitcher for the National League All-Star team, Jordan Zimmermann would be his guy.
What are the chances of that happening?
Well, Zimmermann is now tied for the major league lead in wins with 10. He has a miniscule 2.26 ERA, fifth-best in the NL behind Clayton Kershaw, Jeff Locke, Shelby Miller and Matt Harvey.
Zimmermann has thrown three complete games (tied with Adam Wainwright for the major league lead), his 0.93 WHIP ranks second in the NL behind Harvey and his 5.07 strikeout-to-walk ratio is third-best in the league.
The stats are tremendous, but Zimmermann has a couple things working against him: He’s still not the biggest name out there, leaving more high-profile guys with similar numbers - like Kershaw and Harvey - more likely to get the starting nod. And the All-Star Game this season will be at Citi Field in New York, leaving Harvey as the likely favorite to get the start in his home ballpark if he keeps up his elite level of play.
Still, starting job or not, Zimmermann has surely locked up his first All-Star Game selection, barring a complete collapse in the next few weeks.
I wrote a lot last night about Zimmermann’s changeup, a pitch he used to strike out the NL leader in home runs, Carlos Gonzalez, in a big spot in the eighth. Zimmermann’s increasing confidence in that pitch and his ability to use it in crucial moments is yet another sign of his maturation process, according to Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty.
“He’s grown as a pitcher,” McCatty said. “He’s not going to overuse it, but when he needed to, he made a real quality pitch with it.”
Zimmermann filled up the strike zone last night in a way we haven’t seen this season, even for him. His first 15 pitches of the night, all in the first inning, were strikes. Of his first 49 pitches, 41 were strikes. Zimmermann didn’t get into a three-ball count on a hitter until there was one out in the fifth and his only walk came in the eighth, when his pitch count was approaching triple digits.
McCatty has seen Zimmermann’s attack mentality for a few years now, which is why he isn’t surprised to see the type of effort the 27-year-old right-hander put together last night.
“No, because he’s just bound and determined he’s not gonna walk anybody,” McCatty said. “And sometimes, we’ve talked about it, told him and talked to Dan (Haren), that there’s some times where a walk is not the worst thing in the world. And both of them, that’s just their makeup. He’s gonna pound the zone with everything he’s got.”
Last night, Zimmermann pounded the zone with a whopping 85 strikes, third-most thrown by a Nats pitcher in team history. The Nats have had 10 games this season where their pitcher didn’t throw 85 pitches. Zimmermann threw that many in the zone.
McCatty loves seeing his starters go right after hitters, but was last night maybe a case where he’d like to see Zimmermann actually dial it back a little bit and work outside of the strike zone a little more?
“It was successful, so how can you say it’s too many strikes?” McCatty said. “(But) there’s certain times where even though you don’t want to walk a guy ... you’ll accept that walk because of what you’re trying to do. But not everything that you throw with a breaking ball is just gonna be, throw it for a strike. He has that mindset at times, but not every breaking ball you throw, even if it’s a 3-2 count, you’re gonna throw it (over). You’ve got to have in your mind there’s a reason you’re gonna throw it. But that’s just his makeup. He just doesn’t want to walk people.”
The way Zimmermann sees it, he wants to throw as many strikes as possible. If he’s forcing hitters to put the ball in play early, he’ll keep his pitch count low and be able to work deep into games, and he has enough confidence in his stuff to have them be quality strikes, out of the middle of the plate where hitters can do damage.
“Obviously, I want to be in the zone,” Zimmermann said. “They know I’m in the zone so they’re going to be hacking at the first pitch, so as long as I make a quality pitch, it’s going to result in an out most of the time.”
It sure did last night.
Update: The Nats announced they’re come to terms with three more 2013 draft picks - right-handed pitcher Nicholas Pivetta (fourth round), right-handed pitcher John Simms (11th round) and right-handed pitcher Andrew Cooper (12th round).
Pivetta is out of New Mexico Junior College and had committed to the University of New Mexico. The Nats were able to sign him for a slot deal of $364,300, according to Baseball America’s Jim Callis.
The Nats have now agreed to terms with 13 of their top 14 picks in this year’s First-Year Player Draft.