Before night games, the Nationals pitching staff gathers in the outfield and plays Ultimate Frisbee, a daily game that makes them forget their conditioning. The teams are the same — one group wears red T-shirts, the other group wears the ubiquitous Beast Mode T-shirt originally modeled by Michael Morse.
The best player, by consensus, is Jordan Zimmermann. He may be the best athlete of the bunch, but the reason he’s the best lies more in his effort. He gets back on defense. He’s relentless. Even in a goofy pick-up game, Zimmermann goes all out.
He is an unshakable competitor, which made what Zimmermann did yesterday so unlike him. Faced with a new situation, he essentially panicked. With his 105th pitch, Zimmermann allowed a home run. Any other time he had found trouble that late into a start, he had been pulled from the game.
Yesterday, he stayed on the mound, and with the bases empty, without cause, he pitched from the stretch. He threw a changeup for the first time all game, another act he had no explanation for later. And on that pitch he gave up another home run.
Zimmermann has had bad starts before, but he never had a moment quite like that. It ran counter to everything about Zimmermann’s history and personality. In college, as you probably know, he started a playoff game with his jaw wired shut. Zimmermann went through Tommy John surgery and the grueling rehab it entails and came out the other side as one of the best young pitchers in the majors. He’s the guy who gets back on defense in Ultimate Frisbee games.
I’m open to the fact that this is the kind of blog post you write when you have too much time to think. Maybe he just happened to throw a bad pitch to the wrong hitter at the wrong time. Maybe the changeup Carlos Pena hit clear out of Wrigley Field will no have no effect on Zimmermann beyond irritating him until he throws his next side session.
But, because of his personality and his history, I think it will have an effect on Zimmermann. The next time Zimmermann finds trouble after his 100th pitch, in a tight game, I think he’ll ratchet his concentration, control his adrenaline and make the pitch he wants. He is the type of pitcher who will smolder for a few days and learn from the situation.
“You’ve got to buckle down a little more,” Zimmermann said. “And when you get in a tight spot, you’ve really got to focus and make a pitch.”
For him not to make a pitch yesterday was out of character and surprising to watch. For him to not come through the next time a moment like that arises would be even more surprising.
FROM THE POST
The Nationals’ ninth rally fell short in a 4-3 loss to the Cubs, which an ugly end to a stellar day for Jordan Zimmermann.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Buffalo 3, Syracuse 2: Stephen Lombardozzi went 3 for 5 with a double. Brad Meyers allowed no earned runs in five innings on three hits and no walks, striking out two.
Harrisburg 4, Richmond 1: Bryce Harper went 1 for 3 with an RBI and a walk. Derek Norris went 1 for 3 with a home run a walk. Tanner Roark allowed one run in seven innings on six hits and no walks, striking out five.
Myrtle Beach 12, Potomac 5: Eury Perez went 2 for 4.
Hagerstown 6, Delmarva 2: Blake Kelso went 2 for 4 with an RBI. Paul Applebee allowed no runs in five innings on two hits and a walk, striking out three.
Vermont 7, Auburn 4: Matt Skole went 1 for 2 with three walks.