Zimmermann: “It’s probably one of the better ones I’ve ever had up here”

The Reds just finished off a 10-inning, comeback win over the Pirates, meaning the Nationals are now five games back of both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the wild card chase with just eight games to go.

The odds decrease.

Jordan Zimmermann’s memory doesn’t really allow him to give an accurate ranking of how his stuff was tonight compared to his previous 111 big league starts. He’s not sure if tonight’s two-hit shutout performance, in which he struck out nine (tying a season high) and walked just one, was the best he’s ever felt in a major league outing.

But he is sure that this start ranks up there among his best.

“It’s probably one of the better ones I’ve ever had up here,” he said. “The bullpen before the game wasn’t that good, and I thought it might be a long game. But as soon as I stepped out there and the first inning went on, I knew I had some pretty good stuff.

“I just felt good and felt like I could let it go and it was going to go right where I wanted it to every time, every pitch. I had a really good slider that I was locating down and away to righties. It was a really good pitch tonight.”

Zimmermann’s velocity was up a tick or two tonight, both with his fastball, which consistently sat at 95-96 mph, and his slider, which actually touched 90 mph when the right-hander struck out Chris Coghlan in the fourth inning. That slider was actually thrown so hard, it registered on MLB.com’s Gametracker as a four-seam fastball.

For the second time in the last two weeks, a Nats starter carried a no-hitter into at least the sixth. Gio Gonzalez did it in New York on Sept. 9, and Zimmermann hadn’t allowed a hit until Donovan Solano’s single to center with two outs in the sixth.

“I thought about it a little bit in the fourth, but I still had a lot of game to go,” Zimmermann said of the no-no. “I’m sure I would’ve thought about it a lot more if it was in the seventh or eighth, but I still made a quality pitch on the hit. It was an up and in fastball. He just got the barrel on it.”

Zimmermann briefly was tied with Detroit’s Max Scherzer for the major league wins lead with 19, but Scherzer notched another victory just shortly after the Nats’ game went final. Still, Zimmermann paces the National League in wins, and could hit the 20-victory mark in his final start of the season, which is scheduled to be in St. Louis next week.

“I mean, I just want the team to win, to be honest with you,” Zimmermann said when asked about reaching 20 wins. “If that means me going six, seven innings of no runs and I get the no-decision, as long as we win, that’s the main thing.”

The four complete games Zimmermann has thrown seems to mean more to him than the win total.

“That’s more meaningful than anything else,” Zimmermann said. “I’m staying in the game longer and going nine’s always fun.”

Zimmermann’s ERA after the All-Star break drops to 4.26 with today’s effort. After a stellar first half of the season, Zimmermann had a bumpy stretch over a couple months, largely, he says, due to a lingering neck injury. Zimmermann pitched through the discomfort, but it’s completely gone now, he says, and we’re seeing him back at his early-season form.

“It’s actually fun waking up in the morning knowing there’s not going to be any pain in your neck or a stiff neck and that’s been going for a while now, so hopefully that stays away,” Zimmermann said. “(When the neck was a problem), you wake up and you can’t really look left or you can’t look right. It’s kind of a pain when you’re on the mound and trying to check runners and you got to worry about this thing being locked up. Just something that I had to go through for a while there, and I’m glad it’s over.”

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