Jordan Zimmermann was humming along into the seventh inning today, having struck out six and retired 12 in a row and 13 of 14 from the first through the fifth. The hard-throwing right-hander had issued a leadoff single to Todd Helton to start what would be his final inning, but he got all-star shortstop Troy Tulotwitzki to popout and didn’t appear to be tiring.
Manager Davey Johnson, though, wasn’t about to take any chances, pulling Zimmermann after 88 pitches and with a one-run lead. Zimmermann had pitched too well on this hot afternoon to be saddled potentially with a loss, and Johnson figured the best chance to preserve a victory for him was to hand the ball to his reliable bullpen.
“You couldn’t ask for anything more after what he has went through the last year,” Johnson said, referring to Zimmermann’s recovery process from ligament replacement surgery nearly two years ago. “A pitcher who pitches this great, I’m not even giving him a chance to even come close to losing it. I’ve got a strong bullpen, and I’ve got all the confidence in the world in them.”
The combination of Ryan Mattheus, all-star Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen made good on their manager’s intentions and finished off Zimmermann’s sixth win of the season. Zimmerman’s record by all accounts could be much better than 6-7, with an ERA of 2.51 in five no-decisions, two of which he had been in line to win.
Entering today, Zimmerman’s run support of 2.98 per game was the third lowest in the National League, and in five of his losses, the Nationals scored two runs or fewer. The most glaring recent example came against the Los Angeles Angels on June 29, when he went eight innings and allowed one run on four hits. Washington lost, 1-0.
Working with an innings limit this season because of Tommy John surgery, Zimmermann has 14 quality starts this season, and his club-record 11 consecutive quality starts matches Atlanta all-star Jair Jurrjens for the longest such streak in the major leagues.
“Obviously next year he’s capable of throwing 120 pitches and 200 innings,” Johnson said.
For now, Zimmermann is content to follow the club’s mandate to restrict his innings to roughly 160. So far it’s worked wonders, allowing Zimmermann to sport a 2.16 ERA since the beginning of May. That’s the fourth-best mark in the NL and seventh in the majors. Entering yesterday, Zimmermann had allowed three homers and a .227 batting average with a 3.9 to 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 12 starts dating from May 1.
With the Nationals’ plan for him falling into place, Zimmermann wasn’t about to complain when asked about being removed from today’s game.
“The situation was right to bring in Mattheus,” Zimmermann said. “I understand every decision [Johnson] makes. He said, ‘I think you’ve got a lot left in the tank, but we’re going to go the bullpen here,’ and I’m good with that, and it all worked out.”