ST. LOUIS - After a rough month of July in which he battled a lingering neck injury and went 0-3 in a four-start stretch, Jordan Zimmermann's chances of even approaching the 20-win mark seemed pretty darn slim.
But Zimmermann rebounded this month, going 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA in four September starts coming into today's outing, giving him a shot at reaching 20 victories on the season.
He came up short today, getting the loss after allowing four runs over seven innings in a 4-1 Nationals defeat, but still was pleased with his overall effort in 2013.
"Not really disappointed," Zimmermann said. "Twenty wins is a lot of wins, and 19 is not too far off. This year, I came to do one thing, really, and that's go deep in ballgames. I think I threw 210-212 innings, I don't even know what it was (actually 213 1/3). My main goal this year was 200 innings and go deep in ballgames, and I felt I was able to do that all year."
There was that blip after the All-Star break when Zimmerman pitched through the neck issue and had a few rough outings, but it's hard to ignore what he did as a whole this season. He went seven innings or more in 19 of his 32 outings, posted a 2.26 ERA in his first 16 starts on the year and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of more than 4-to-1, the best mark of his career.
"Over 200 innings and a pretty low ERA. So I'm happy with the way the season went," Zimmermann said. "I wish I wouldn't have had the little neck problem, but that's gone now and I feel good. I wish I could keep pitching. I guess I'll be ready to go in spring training."
Zimmermann has had issues with the Cardinals in his career, and while he didn't pitch poorly today, he again was on the losing end of an outing against St. Louis. He had trouble putting Cardinals hitters away, with four of the six he allowed coming when he had two strikes on a hitter.
In seven career starts against the Cardinals, including the postseason, Zimmermann is now 0-4 with an 8.83 ERA.
"They're good one through nine," Zimmermann said. "Every one of those guys is hitting over .270-.280. Everyone's dangerous. You can't make any mistakes. They're just a good-hitting ballclub. You have to make your pitches. I don't know really what their gameplan is, but they obviously see me pretty well."
Zimmermann will probably end up on the back end of some Cy Young ballots, in which writers submit five pitchers' names, but he won't draw serious discussion for the award. That's largely because of how good Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw has been and largely because of that stretch where Zimmermann's performance dropped off in the middle of the season.
Getting to 20 wins would have helped some around the league take notice, but Jayson Werth doesn't really think that necessarily would've mattered much as far as the voting goes.
"I think we probably would've had to make the postseason for it to really have an effect but, you know, don't take anything away from him," Werth said. "He had a great season. He's pitched good ever since I got here, for three straight years now. He's a horse. He's probably our No. 1 guy on the staff. He pitched great for us all year. I'm looking forward to having him in our rotation for a long time."
This is the first look that Denard Span has gotten of Zimmermann up close, and the Nationals center fielder was impressed with what he saw from the 27-year-old righty this season.
"I just like his mentality when he's on the mound. He's coming to get you," Span said. "He challenges you, he throws everything. Even when the season started, everyone was talking about (Stephen) Strasburg and all the other guys, and I think he's been our best pitcher all year.
"Not to take anything from Strasburg, but Zimmermann has been consistent all season long for us, and he's been a guy that when he gets the ball, we have a good chance of winning."