Jordan Zimmermann sat before a gathering of reporters on Sunday morning, a day before his first-ever major league postseason start. He had one expression of his face: a straight-forward, focused and unwavering look. It’s that mentality that the Nationals loved when they scouted him out of a Division III college, Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and selected him in the second round of the 2007 draft. This is the guy who once pitched for his college team with two plates and 11 screws after his jaw was broken by a line drive that year.
“I just look at it as just another game,” he said. “I really never get nervous for any games. The only game I really got nervous for was my debut. And I don’t see anything changing this time. I may have a few butterflies when I first walk out there. But I’m sure they’ll go away quickly. I’m going to take it as just another ball game. I’m sure the fans are going to pretty rowdy and loud but I’m going to try and zone them out as best as I can and pitch the way I know I can pitch.”
Zimmermann’s worst career ERA versus any team is against the Cardinals. In 25 2/3 innings over five starts against them, he has 9.12 ERA. In his first start against them this season, the Cardinals bashed him around for eight hits and eight runs over 3 2/3 innings. He bounced back against them, allowing only three runs on seven hits over 6 1/3 innings. All three of those runs came in the seventh innings when Zimmermann admittedly hit a wall.
“It’s going to be tough to shut them completely down,” he said. “They’re going to get their runs. I just gotta keep it to a minimum and try to get out of jams as best you can when you’re in a tight spot. You’re going to give up a home run here and there but hopefully they’re solos.”
Zimmermann last pitched on Sept. 29, against the Cardinals, a layoff of eight days. When he struggled some in August, he attributed it over-throwing because he was too strong on his pitches. To stay fresh and avoid that, he threw a bullpen session a few days ago and then a longer one later to tire his arm out a little bit more.
When Zimmermann climbs onto the mound at Busch Stadium on Monday afternoon, he insists any little bit of nervousness will instantly disappear. He can easily handle the chillier weather in St. Louis, temperatures he is accustomed to back home in Auburndale, Wisc. He pitched in the Division III College World Series in 2007 before 5,000 fans, the biggest game of his career.
“He was a calm, cool customer when we saw him back then,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “I happened to see him play in the championship game. He was the star of the game offensively, defensively, pitching, running the bases. It was at a much lower level than this, obviously. But it was a big game, and he rose to the occasion. … Not a lot gets him excited. He’s comfortable in his ability level. That’s the key to these pressure situations.”
But nothing, Zimmermann says, could ready him for Monday. “I don’t think there is anything close to this,” he said.