Zimmermann, lefties starting to struggle

I mentioned last night that Jordan Zimmermann has hit a pretty rough patch since the All-Star break, posting a 6.75 ERA and a 1.929 WHIP in four starts after his first Midsummer Classic.

This comes after Zimmermann was one of the most consistent starters in baseball in the first half of the season. He allowed more than three runs in an outing just three times prior to the All-Star break and made it through at least five innings in all 19 first-half starts. He also walked just 1.22 batters per nine innings.

Since the break, he's twice allowed five earned runs or more and has failed to even reach the fifth inning twice. The walks-per-nine-innings total has more than quadrupled to 5.31.

Is this a health issue? Is Zimmermann's strained neck (which was present for a couple of months before the break) creating a problem, or is he just hitting a rare rough patch?

Ask Davey Johnson and he'll say that the discomfort in Zimmermann's neck has started to reappear. Ask Zimmermann, as I did last night, and he'll say the neck isn't an issue at all.

It could just be that Zimmermann doesn't want to blame his poor performance on an injury or that he's tired of talking about the neck. It could also just be a case of miscommunication between a player, the training staff and a manager.

Regardless, Zimmermann clearly hasn't been the same pitcher lately.

But he's not alone. The two left-handers in the Nats bullpen - Ian Krol and Fernando Abad - both got off to tremendous starts after getting promoted to the big leagues a little over two months ago. Lately, both have had far less success.

After pitching to a stellar 1.32 ERA with a 0.512 WHIP and a .128 batting average against over his first 12 big league appearances, Krol has a 5.40 ERA in his last 10 outings, with a 2.402 WHIP and .429 batting average against.

In addition, Krol has allowed each of his last six inherited runners to score, including two last night against the Braves in the decisive eighth inning.

"They seem to be jumping on my fastball a little more early than usual," Krol said last night. "I've been trying to pitch backward, and that's not my game. My game is to go after them with fastballs and attacking the zone, so I need to get back to what I was doing before and like I said, just clear my head and have a short memory."

Abad also caught fire after getting called up by the Nats, pitching to a 1.08 ERA, .219 opponents' batting average and .492 OPS against over his first 18 outings. In the 10 outings since, he's punched up a 5.00 ERA, .372 batting average against and a .925 OPS against.

"It was really good," manager Davey Johnson said of Krol and Abad, "and now when we're leaning on them, they're having a few blips on the radar screen."

It's important to point out that Abad had a career ERA of 5.10 in the big leagues coming into this season and Krol is still just 22 and had never pitched above Double-A prior to this season. They were both probably due to regress to the mean a bit after very strong starts.

But it just indicates another aspect that has been an issue for the Nationals of late. They're not hitting, and the pitching is starting to flounder a bit, as well.

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