Jordan Zimmermann suffers bruised shoulder, survives scare
Jordan Zimmermann suffered a bruised pitching shoulder Saturday night when he narrowly avoided being struck in the face by a line drive in the Nationals’ 3-2 victory over the Marlins.
Leading off the sixth inning, Casey McGehee smashed a line drive back through the middle, headed straight at Zimmermann’s face. Zimmermann blocked his jaw with his right shoulder, and the ball deflected off his upper arm.
“It happened so fast, I don’t even think my reaction was fast enough to do anything,” Zimmermann said. “It just happened to be that shoulder was in the right spot in the right time.”
The line drive knocked Zimmermann to the dirt of the pitching mound. The play unfolded so rapidly that Zimmermann had to reset himself as he lay on the ground. Had the ball hit him in the face? No. Good. What about the shoulder? Ouch.
Zimmermann noticed the ball had actually ricocheted toward second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, who retired McGehee. He then saw coaches and trainers pace toward the mound to check on him. He told them he was okay, fired some warm-up pitches and continued with the inning.
“I think my best sliders were after I got hit,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmermann retired two more hitters to get through the sixth. In the dugout, Manager Matt Williams told him he didn’t want him to pitch with a bruised shoulder.
“We’re not going to take any chances there,” Williams said. “I would assume he’ll be pretty sore tomorrow. He’s got a pretty good welt on his shoulder.”
After the game, Zimmermann said his shoulder felt “a little sore” and “pretty tight right now.” The bruising on his pitching shoulder may be cause for concern, and Williams said the Nationals will re-evaluate him Sunday. But Zimmermann said he wouldn’t worry.
“It’s not going to affect me or anything,” Zimmermann said. “It got a little tight after I came out in the sixth inning. We made the decision it wouldn’t be smart to go back out there and keep throwing. It was a couple inches away from hitting me in the face.”
Zimmermann had suffered a worse fate in college at Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Zimmermann broke his jaw when a line drive drilled him during a scrimmage. As has been well-documented, Zimmermann pitched in the Division III playoffs with his jaw wired shut.
Saturday night, despite a brief scare, Zimmermann survived with far less damage.
“It happened so fast,” Zimmermann said. “I actually saw the ball coming. It looked like it was stopped. I just tried turning and lifting my shoulder. I was lucky enough for it to me in the shoulder and not in the face.”
Ryan Zimmerman returns to Nationals in an unsettled role, feeling fortunate
MIAMI — Ryan Zimmerman will accept the uncertainty of his situation, because with it comes possibility. At certain times over the past two months — 55 games, by baseball’s calendar — Zimmerman wondered if the Washington Nationals’ rush into, and possibly through, the playoffs would occur without him.
Saturday afternoon, Zimmerman walked into the batting cage adjacent to the Nationals’ clubhouse inside Marlins Park, passing the lineup card with his name on it, batting sixth and playing left field. On the night of July 22, when Zimmerman’s right hamstring tore and he crumpled into a heap at Coors Field in Denver, nothing was guaranteed. It was, Zimmerman said, “50-50 I was going to get to play or not.”
Zimmerman returned to the Nationals in a 3-2 victory Saturday night, going 2 for 3 with a cruising-speed RBI triple into the right field corner and a dash home from third base on an infield chopper, which he admitted afterward was an ill-advised test for his hamstring. Zimmerman played six action-free innings in left field before Nate Schierholtz replaced him. His ability to swat two opposite-field hits off hard-throwing right-hander Jarred Cosart, after sitting two months, awed teammates.
“That guy is unbelievable,” center fielder Denard Span said. “The game is just that easy for him.”
Zimmerman brought with him a still-balky hamstring and a set of questions Manager Matt Williams must grapple with over the season’s final week. Zimmerman does not know the role he will fill, he does not know how his hamstring and his body will respond to the rigors of daily major league games. He just knows he missed the National League East clinching bash, and he wants to help create another celebration.
“I won’t be 100 percent until next year, but I’m good enough to contribute,” Zimmerman said. “Once the playoffs start, nobody really knows. Because we don’t know if I’m going to be ready to play or what the role is going to be. We do know that getting at-bats over these next nine games is pretty important.”
Zimmerman started his re-acclimation batting sixth for the first time since 2006 and playing left field as Bryce Harper took his final day off of the regular season. (“He’s none too happy with me,” Williams said. “That’s okay.”) Zimmerman had taken more than 30 at-bats over four rehab scrimmages against Nationals minor leaguers in Viera, Fla. He hopes for another 30 or so over the final week of the regular season.
For now, Zimmerman will focus on regaining his swing. He feels like his hands are strong, the product of swinging a bat and taking batting practice for the past three weeks. He needs timing, and he needs to gain comfort in the field.
Zimmerman said he can run at about 80 to 85 percent of full speed, but exerted himself more on one occasion. He trotted carefully on his single and even his triple, coasting to third after Reed Johnson dove and missed his flare to right. But when Wilson Ramos hit a high chopper to third, Zimmerman bolted home. In mid-sprint, he realized he had a made a mistake.
“Instinctually, I go,” Zimmermann said. “And I went. I probably shouldn’t have gone. Nothing happened, but looking back on it, that probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do.”
Casey McGehee’s throw beat his slide home. Zimmerman popped up and signaled “safe” with arms, apparently unconcerned about his hamstring. In the dugout, Williams’s heart pounded.
“We’re trying to bubble-wrap him as much as possible,” Williams said. “I would imagine that play is part of his testing process. We’d just as soon he not try to score that ball.”
Once Williams saw Zimmerman’s dash, he pulled him for cautionary reasons. Zimmerman felt fine, and even though he may not sprint so hard again, he had accomplished an important task.
“This is the reason why we tried to get me back with a week or so left, because these are the things we need to test and the answers we need to know,” Zimmerman said. “Because in the playoffs, when you lose games, every run matters. I think you need to be able to do things and hopefully in the next eight, nine days we’ll find most of those out.”
On defense, Zimmerman said, he will have to avoid “short, explosive” movements in the field.
“You can get away with it at first base, but we have one of the best first basemen in the league,” Zimmerman said, referring to Adam LaRoche. “I can sort of get away with it in left field, because I can take the first couple steps easily. But obviously [Bryce Harper] has been swinging the bat great, Denard [Span] has been probably our most consistent player all year and Jayson [Werth] is a key guy. That’s what happens when you have a really good team. Third base is the toughest, because that’s where your reactions have to be the quickest. There’s really no way to take it easy over there.”
In a matter of sentences, Zimmerman outlined the dilemma Williams faces. Zimmerman’s bat makes the Nationals’ lineup better. Zimmerman hit .282/.345/.456 this season, and in July he hit .362 with a .987 OPS. He told hitting coach Rick Schu he felt better at the plate than he had in his entire career.
“It’s important for us to have him back,” Williams said. “He’s a run-producing bat if you take the personal [emotion] out of it. That bat produces over time. That’s important for us. It’s also important for him to get out there and playing and feel good about where’s at so that when we get to the playoffs there are no limitations.”
Will the hamstring injury and the time away allow Zimmerman to be the same hitter, dangerous enough to disrupt the Nationals’ current lineup? The Nationals went 34-21 without Zimmerman, thriving after they acquired Asdrubal Cabrera from the Cleveland Indians. Their defense would suffer if he replaced any current starter.
The Nationals are waiting to see how Zimmerman looks and feels between now and Game 162 before they decide how to use him in the playoffs. The likeliest outcome could be a utility/platoon role.
Zimmerman could play first base or left field against an opposing left-handed starter, pushing LaRoche or Harper to the bench, while serving as an overqualified pinch hitter against opposing right-handed starters. (He is, if you were wondering, 7 for 21 in his career off the bench.)
It would be difficult to ask a player of Zimmerman’s stature — the first draft choice in team history, the recipient of a $100 million contract extension, the franchise’s face — to pinch hit in October. But Zimmerman has proved all season he will place his team’s interests above him own.
Zimmerman learned left field as he recovered from an April broken thumb, an injury that cost him 44 games. He preferred to stay in the outfield, but moved back to third base, the position that torments his chronic right shoulder, without complaint when Harper came off the disabled list.
“Hopefully I can come back and help, whatever capacity that is or whatever they ask me to do, I’d be more than willing to do it,” Zimmerman said. “ …I’ve pinch hit a decent amount before. I’m not going to change the way I hit or my approach just for one at-bat. I’m going to try to take the same approach into every at-bat no matter what. If that’s what I do to help them win, that’s what I’ll do.”
Zimmerman would not feel slighted by the assignment. He felt fortunate Friday night to be milling around the dugout before the game began, due up sixth. His team ran away with the division without him. He is only thankful he now has a chance to make them even better.
“It’s been a rough year for me, obviously, with the thumb and now this,” Zimmerman said. “But as far as team and organization, it’s been one of the best years we’ve ever had. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. It’s OK. Things happen, and I’ve been lucky.”
Nationals-Marlins discussion thread: Game 154
Ryan Zimmerman is back and the Nationals are whole again for the first time since July 22. The Nationals have split the series so far against the Marlins and a win Saturday would guarantee a series win. Entering Saturday’s game, the Nationals hold a two-game lead over the Dodgers for the top seed in the NL. Jordan Zimmermann (12-5, 2.83 ERA) starts and will be opposed by Jarred Cosart (13-9, 3.67 ERA). The lineups are here. As always, talk about the game below.
Ryan Zimmerman returns, playing left field and batting sixth
After missing 55 games with a torn hamstring, Ryan Zimmerman is activated and back in the Nationals lineup with nine games remaining in the season. Zimmerman is playing left field and hitting sixth, with Bryce Harper getting a day off. He’ll face hard-throwing right-hander Jarred Cosart as the Nationals try to improve to 8-2 on their road trip. Zimmerman has started a game batting sixth only 34 times in his career, and not once since 2006.
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Anthony Rendon, 3B
3. Jayson Werth, RF
4. Adam LaRoche, 1B
5. Ian Desmond, SS
6. Ryan Zimmerman, LF
7. Wilson Ramos, C
8. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B
9. Jordan Zimmermann, SP
- Jarred Cosart, SP
The Nationals’ pitching staff is staying healthy and dominating hitters
Down the stretch in 2012, rival scouts kept saying the same thing about the Nationals’ pitching staff: They looked tired. They were young, and many had never pitched over the course of an entire season when every pitch mattered. Jordan Zimmermann had not thrown more than 160 innings; Drew Storen had recovered from elbow surgery midseason; Stephen Strasburg, as you might have heard, was sidelined because a team-imposed innings limit.
The state of the Nationals’ pitching staff may be the largest difference between then and now. They have grown up, built stamina and strength and used their experience to stay healthy. It is also a deeper staff, built to allow top relievers rest and still protect leads. As the playoffs loom, the Nationals’ pitchers are operating at full capacity.
The Nationals’ pitchers have been excellent all season — their 3.04 ERA ranks first in the National League. As the playoffs near, they’ve taken it to another level. On their current road trip, a span of nine games in which they’ve gone 7-2, the Nationals have a 1.82 ERA as a team. Their rotation has been ridiculous. In 58 1/3 innings this trip, Nationals starters have a 1.70 ERA with 36 strikeouts and seven walks — that’s seven (7) walks in eight games.
The most important element is health. Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez each lost about a month on the disabled list this year. Otherwise, the pitching staff has remained remarkably healthy. Part of that is luck. Part of that is having pitchers who have been around and know how to maintain through the season. Part of that is the training staff — John Philbin, Lee Kuntz, Steve Gober, Matt Eiden.
“There’s so many different ingredients that go into that,” closer Drew Storen said. “It’s really kind of a tight course when you’re playing 162 games and you’re having as many outings and you’re throwing high-leverage, high-stress pitches. It takes a toll. Fortunately for us, we have a lot of experience. We can bend an ear to another guy and learn something.”
Depth matters, too. When Manager Matt Williams wants to rest his best arms, the ones that fill in, even September call-ups, can excel. If Matt Thornton needs a night off, Williams can ask Xavier Cedeno to face a tough lefty and still be comfortable. Wednesday in Atlanta, Blake Treinen made a spot start and fired five shutout innings. Treinen this season has a 1.94 ERA in 46 1/3 innings, and he’s only on the fringes of the postseason roster discussion. It’s internal competition with the benefit of keeping arms fresh.
“With the bullpen and the starting five, we have guys that had to play all year in Triple A that dominated,” reliever Craig Stammen said. “They should have been called up on every other team. There’s so many guys chomping at the bit, wanting to get a chance.”
The Nationals are rolling into October, with no more important reason than their dominant, deep and healthy pitching staff. In 2012, the Nationals faded, going 15-15 in their final 30 games, the NLDS included. This year, led by their pitchers, they are surging toward the finish.
“All season long, all five of us have been working hard in the weight room, doing our running, getting those little things every day,” Fister said. “That’s what carries us through however far we can go through October. Those kind of things put yourself in a good position to stay healthy, and that’s something that we definitely do put an emphasis on. At this point, we’ve got some momentum.”