Jordan Zimmermann’s start began with a whimper. He threw his first pitch of Monday afternoon for a ball. Next he threw a fastball down the middle, and Detroit Tigers leadoff man Andy Dirks lined a single to left field. The fearsome middle of Detroit’s order awaited. It did not seem like it would be Zimmermann’s day. And then everything went perfect.
After the leadoff single, Zimmermann pitched six innings without another blemish – 18 up, 18 down. He struck out just one batter but induced constant weak contact. Throwing only 67 pitches, Zimmermann recorded 13 groundouts and, after the lone hit, allowed two balls out of the infield. He peppered the bottom of the strike zone, fooled the Tigers with his revamped change-up and generally dominated.
“I had all four pitches working,” Zimmermann said. “It’s one of those days when you have everything working. You can locate everything anytime you want. It’s hard to come by when — they don’t come by often, let’s just say that.”
Zimmermann overwhelmed a lineup that included Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez. He threw his fastball between 92 and 95 mph, scouts said, and mixed in about a half dozen change-ups with his usual sliders and curveballs. Zimmermann was so efficient, he had to throw 20 additional pitches in the bullpen so Nationals relievers could get their work in.
“I told him, ‘You can go nine,’ ” Manager Davey Johnson said.
Two starts ago, Zimmermann complained of “dead arm” after the Cardinals battered him. “That’s pretty much a thing of the past now,” he said. The feeling allowed him to approach the start more like a regular season outing. The second time through the order, he mixed in more off-speed pitches, setting up hitters more than in previous starts.
Zimmermann hardly threw any balls, but when he fell behind he often used his new weapon. Zimmermann, for the third straight spring, is trying to work a change-up into his regular repertoire. The signs so far indicate it may finally be more than a spring experiment. In fastball counts, 1-0 or 2-1, Zimmermann threw a change-up to keep hitters off balance, forcing them to “roll over,” he said, and groundout.
Today, Zimmermann’s change-up traveled about 87-88 mph, a little faster than what he thinks is ideal. But there was no arguing with the results.
“You feel like you can’t do anything wrong,” Zimmermann said. “Everywhere you throw the ball, it goes where you want it to.”