Friday, October 1, 2010

Zimmermann: Mission accomplished

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann finished the season with back-to-back strong outings.
NEW YORK -- Had this 2-1, 10-inning loss to the Mets taken place in May or even July, the most significant development of the evening might have been the Nationals' utter lack of offense against Pat Misch and Hisanori Takahashi. Or it might have been the game-winning homer surrendered by Tyler Clippard to Josh Thole. Or perhaps the brutally botched fly ball to straightaway left field that wound up on the ground because Nyjer Morgan inexplicably ran all the way over from center field and got in Justin Maxwell's way.

No, this wasn't exactly a well-played game from the Nationals' perspective. And had it taken place earlier in the season, or with more on the line, there would have been plenty to pick apart and analyze.

But this being Game 160 of what will ultimately be at least a 92-loss season, the most significant development tonight was the one real positive thing to happen from the Nats' perspective: Jordan Zimmermann's six stellar innings on the mound.

"That's the bright spot of the night," Jim Riggleman said, "his performance."

It may seem like sugarcoating to focus on the guy who pitched the first six innings of a 10-inning game and who didn't factor into the eventual outcome. But let's be honest here. In the grand scheme of things, what was more important tonight: That Morgan and Maxwell butchered a routine fly ball, that the Nats were three-hit by Misch and Takahashi and struck out 14 times, that Clippard served up a game-winning homer or that Zimmermann successfully completed his first season back from Tommy John surgery?

Zimmermann deserves the attention tonight. He wasn't quite as dominant as he was seven days ago when he was firing 96 mph fastballs past the Braves' lineup. But he was equally as effective, allowing three hits over six innings, allowing only one run on Ike Davis' fourth-inning homer and not issuing one walk.

It was a fitting conclusion to an impressive return from elbow ligament replacement surgery.

Zimmermann's final pitching numbers in seven big-league starts (1-2, 4.94 ERA, 31 innings, 31 hits, 10 walks, 27 strikeouts) don't blow you away. But the numbers can be deceiving since it was a relatively small sample size and he was dealing with a limited pitch count (he never surpassed 86 pitches in any one start).

More important than the numbers were the facts Zimmermann's arm felt strong, his velocity was good, his curveball had bite and his command was at times excellent.

"It feels awesome," he said when asked about his arm. "It comes back [from previous starts] good, better than before. My velocity is there. And my control's pretty much there. I think I'm ready."

We tend to take it for granted that pitchers come all the way from Tommy John surgery, sometimes stronger than before. The procedure has become so commonplace, and so many big-name pitchers have gone through it. But this was anything but a sure thing. It required a year's worth of rehab from Zimmermann to get back to this point, and until he actually stood on a big-league mound against big-league hitters, there was no way to know for sure how this would turn out.

"When I first had the surgery, I didn't know when I'd be back or how I'd feel or anything," Zimmermann said. "But everything went so smooth. I'm just really thankful to be back here and pitching."

The Nationals are even more thankful to have one of their top young pitchers back at full strength heading into 2011. They may not have missed anyone more than Zimmermann this season. It perhaps wasn't as big a void as they'll experience next year without Stephen Strasburg. But given the unsettled nature of the rest of their rotation, Zimmermann's absence absolutely was noticeable.

Now, he can enjoy some actual time off this winter after rehabbing straight through the last one. Then he can start up a typical throwing program shortly before spring training and report to Viera ready to give the Nationals a full season at full strength.

"I think I've accomplished enough for this year," he said. "I've been throwing since February, so my arm needs a little bit of a break. The way I'm going right now, I'd like to have a couple more starts. But it is what it is. The season's over. Time to give my arm a little break and be ready for the spring."

Zimmermann's seven big-league starts came after 10 minor-league starts. If you combine them all together, he wound up with a 2.93 ERA, only 61 hits allowed in 76 2/3 innings and a really impressive 61-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Most importantly, he never once experienced any kind of arm trouble.

"That's real good," Riggleman said. "That's testament to how hard he worked. To come back after that surgery, it's real encouraging. It kind of gives us hope for Strasburg. Strasburg can look at what Jordan did. If he can work the same way and come back to his game the way Zimmermann has come back to his, it says a lot for our future."

Strasburg is only in the very beginning stages of his rehab. There are plenty more hurdles to cross between now and next September, when perhaps he'll make his own triumphant return to the majors. There are no guarantees he'll make it all the way back.

But if nothing else, he's now got a role model in Zimmermann, a shining example of perseverance for someone who's going to need to display a lot of that over the next 12 months.


Sec3MySofa said...

Watching Giants-Padres on MLB--SF is giving away a new Prius, among other things, for Fan Appreciation Day Sunday (no, just one, not everybody).
What was the grand prize here, this past week?

Just as well. Some Phillie fan would probably have won it.


Doc said...

Good article on JZim Mark. Hard work and dedication will mostly pay off.

As part of next year's "intact OF", only Morse did his job last night. Too bad Maxwell and Morgan couldn't 'rehab' like J. Zim.

So far only Morse and Willingham look like consistent performers. Bernie needs to come out of spring like his first half of 2010--in CF.

Riggleman needs to get real on his Morgan delusions. Last night was an opportunity for him to get it straight.

It will be disappointing for the fans if the current array of OFs is all the Nats have to offer for 2011.

JayB said...

Uh Hello clearly is not just me who sees Current Outfield as a Big PROBLEM.....Morgan way they don't see the issues,

1. Can you please weigh in with your opinion on this?

2. Can you ask some more pointed questions with data points to see how they are rationalizing what clearly is BS

3. Do you think they are just trying to get trade value to something above a bag of balls for Morgan.

4. How much is Rizzo's ego and pride playing into the OF and Morgan specifically plan. Milledge did not work for PIT either...that part of the trade turned out to be no value for no value....but does Rizzo have to win that that part of the trade in his mind?

natsfan1a said...

sec3, and their ballpark was privately funded. ;-)

Feel Wood said...

"Sec3MySofa said...What was the grand prize here, this past week?"

They did give away a Sony Bravia big screen TV to some random fan in the stands at the last home game on Wednesday. Also they gave away a signed Strasburg jersey and some plaque thingy containing Strasburg mound dirt to other random fans. And a week or two ago everyone's favorite blogger Nats320 was complaining that they gave away two free airline tickets to anywhere Southwest flies to some random fan who wasn't even wearing any Nats gear, instead of giving them to some loyal fan decked head to toe in red (such as himself). So there's that.

And from your sofa, you had just as much chance to win those things as you do the car in SF.

Section 222 said...

@sec3, you mean you didn't think the giveaways of $50 Harris Teeter gift cards and some unclaimed promotional items from earlier in the year (when they said they were all gone at the time) to a few lucky fans was AWESOME? What an ingrate you are!

How about that showing by the Nats' outfield on the day that Riggleman said we were likely to stand pat in the outfield? The fact that he is ok with that and is still hoping that Maxwell at age 27 miraculously develops into a major league hitter speaks volumes. (And no, he's not a gold glove fielder out there either.) In my view, we need a manager who is not content with losing. And a new CF. At least.

Anonymous said...

I thought we weren't allowed to have dissent. The Lerner mind control machine only lets us see the positives. Zimmermann, the pitcher on an otherwise lousy team had a good night against a "B" line-up. World Series next year!

BinM said...

Nats320 should have won those tickets, only to find the following "small print" caveats - 1) Vouchers are accepted out of BWI only, 2) Vouchers are for Coach class seating, and cannot be upgraded, 3) Return flight arraingements will be Stand-by only, and 4) Vouchers are only redeemable during non-peak periods (at the discretion of Southwest Airlines).

The backlash from something like that would have been rich, don't you think?

Anonymous8 said...

BinM, my stomach just turned rehashing that loser Nats320. Yuck. Talking about changes at Nats Park next year, is there any chance of shipping that dynamic duo up to Orioles Park? I hear they need some "true" fans.

Back to Jordan Z'mann, I think he will emerge as the #1 in 2011. His fast ball looks great and his breaking pitch can be a knee bender.

afl shop said...

Zimmermann managed to put up an impressive season-ender of six innings.

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