VIERA, Fla. - Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann had one of those days. He battled with his command, fought a gusty wind and the opposing catcher didn’t believe Zimmermann when the pitcher told him that he was bunting with two outs and requested a fat pitch over the middle of the plate.
That was Zimmermann’s fourth spring start in a nutshell. He threw 44 of his 66 pitches for strikes, gave up his first run of the spring and still managed to adroitly work around four singles in four innings.
“It was OK,” Zimmermann said. “Fastball command wasn’t really there today. Fell behind a lot of guys, working some deep counts, which I don’t want to do. Overall, it was OK, but I wish fastball command was there a little bit.”
In the bottom of the third, Zimmermann was told by manager Matt Williams to bunt - even though there were two outs and no runners on. The order created a little comedy when Zimmermann got to the plate, the first Nationals pitcher to hit this spring.
Williams wants his pitchers to work on bunting, since that’s what they’ll be doing a lot of during the season. So even though the situation didn’t seem to dictate a bunt, Zimmermann was merely following orders.
“I walked up there and told the catcher, ‘Just throw it over the middle. I’m just trying to get a bunt down.’ I don’t know if he believed me or not,” Zimmermann said. “(Justin) Verlander threw it and he’s like, ‘Two outs, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah, right over the middle is fine.’ He threw it over the middle, I got the bunt down and got out of there. A few people in the stands were heckling me, but what are you going to do?”
Where is Zimmermann after four Grapefruit League starts?
“I feel great,” he said. “I’ve felt good all spring and I’m ready to go. Just one of those days. It’s pretty windy out there and I didn’t have much command of anything. So it was a little bit of a battle for me.”
While Zimmermann is rounding into form, Ryan Zimmerman got his first taste of first base, and the way he reacted to his first chance made it look like the new position was second nature to the usual third baseman.
Once Zimmerman had entered the game at first in the sixth, it didn’t take long for the ball to find him. After Victor Martinez drew a leadoff walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Tyler Collins, Zimmerman had to field the first ball hit in the inning, Don Kelly’s broken bat grounder to his right.
“It always happens like that,” Zimmerman said after the game.
Zimmerman snagged the bouncer, glanced at second, briefly fumbled the ball as he transferred it from glove to bare hand and wisely decided he didn’t have enough time to get the lead runner before stepping on first to retire Kelly. He spent two innings at first base without any complications, but seemed relieved to be able to put all the talk of his impending debut at the position behind him.
“It felt good,” he said. “It’s obviously the first time I’ve ever really played over there, so I’ve got a little ways to go. But it felt fine.”
His footwork and positioning were good, and Zimmerman said he has been speaking with Gold Glove first baseman Adam LaRoche in preparation for the move.
“It helps to be out there in the game,” Zimmerman said. “You can take as many ground balls as you want, but when a right-handed hitter’s up there, to see how far you can get off (the bag) and just learn things like that.”
He’s still learning, though.
“When it comes down to it, you just catch the ball and do the same things you do over (at third),” he said. “You just have a few different responsibilities and those I’ll have to learn.”
But Zimmerman still feels comfortable enough that he could play first now in a game of consequence.
“I wouldn’t be as confident as I wanted to be, but I still feel like I could go do that if I needed to. I’d like to get a few more games over there just to be comfortable - not whole games, but just to get over there and get comfortable. If it was the regular season right now and they needed me to do it, I could go do it.”
The last part of Zimmerman’s education at first base will come later this spring: when he starts a game there. He won’t accept just being passable at the position.
“Being a third baseman (and) shortstop growing up, I appreciate a good first baseman, so it makes me want to be that much better over there,” he said. “As a position player, if you can save a guy an error or make them feel confident that if they just get it close over there they’re going to be good, it does a lot for the fielder. So that’s the goal, to try and make those guys think that way of me when I’m over there so they have enough confidence to just let it go and know if they get it close, I’ve got it.”