Jordan Zimmermann tries to get back on track against Phillies

Three weeks ago, Jordan Zimmermann showed all the promise the Nationals had been waiting to see during his 12-month return from Tommy John surgery. He struck out nine batters in six innings, allowing just one hit against the Florida Marlins and looking as in command of his four-pitch repertoire as he has in his short pro career.

But for all the talk about Zimmermann being able to stand alongside Stephen Strasburg in the Nationals’ ideal rotation of the future, he still has yet to grasp any kind of consistency. His two outings since the Marlins game have lasted four and three innings, respectively, and the Nationals lost to the Marlins the last time Zimmermann was on the mound. He’ll be back at it tonight at Citizens Bank Park, facing a Phillies team he’s only seen once in his career. Nonetheless, it represents a chance for Zimmermann to rouse some hope about his 2011 prospects.

His only outing against the Phillies came last May at Nationals Park, when Zimmermann allowed five runs on seven hits in five innings, striking out six. Those kinds of games - when the right-hander flashes his electric stuff, but starts slow or finds some trouble - have been more common than not for Zimmermann. He’s still struggled with left-handers, putting them on base at a .389 clip (as opposed to .282 for righties). He’ll get a test tonight from the Phillies’ lefty-heavy lineup, where Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez can punish Zimmermann if he isn’t able to fend them off with his changeup.

The Nationals expect Zimmermann to be one of their aces in 2011, and the last time the Nationals were in Philadelphia, Strasburg was putting together the kind of outing that aces are expected to have. He was dominating the Phillies, silencing the sellout crowd, until his elbow popped on a changeup to Domonic Brown and his season was over. If Zimmermann is going to lessen the blow from that injury, he can show his bona fides tonight.