Three weeks ago, seven starts into his season, Jordan Zimmermann sported a 2.92 ERA. He recovered from one early clunker of a start and pitched more like himself.
But four starts later, Zimmermann’s ERA has risen steadily and his results have slipped. In his past four starts, including Wednesday’s uneven game against the Miami Marlins, Zimmermann has a 5.96 ERA. His overall season ERA has risen to 4.07, the highest among current Nationals starters.
Nearly two-thirds of the season remain, but for the first third, Zimmermann’s results haven’t been up to his typically high standards. On Wednesday, he allowed four runs, three earned, on eight hits and walked one over five innings. The Nationals are accustomed to seeing Zimmermann allow perhaps two or three runs over six or seven innings each start.
“I thought I threw the ball pretty well except for the fourth inning,” Zimmermann said. “I made some good pitches. I threw a fastball up about neck-high to [Garrett] Jones and he somehow hit the ball. I thought I made some good pitches that inning, too. Luck’s just not on my side right now and these guys are squaring some balls up pretty hard. I have to keep grinding and somehow make my way through this.”
Zimmermann is, in part, correct. Many of the peripheral pitching numbers are the same as before. According to FanGraphs.com, Zimmermann’s Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA this season (3.26) is lower than last season (3.36 FIP). His groundball rate this season (47.3 percent) is the same as last season (47.6 percent). His strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.85) is in line with his career (3.66). He is throwing nearly as many strikes as before and, in fact, he is getting more swinging strikes (16.7 percent) than his career rate (14 percent), and is throwing more first-pitch strikes.
The issue with Zimmermann, however, has been partly his command and bad luck. He fluctuated between sharp and hittable on Wednesday. He gave up two hits in the first inning but escaped with a double play. Then he needed only 25 pitches to get through the second and third innings. Then Zimmermann’s pitches were hit well by the Marlins. In the top of the fourth inning, Zimmermann gave up five hits and walked a batter, and gave up four runs.
“My stuff’s there,” he said. “The fourth inning, [Derek] Dietrich led off with a fastball down and away for a base hit. [Garrett] Jones got a hit on a high fastball that was a foot out of the zone. [Casey] McGehee was a high fastball. I went back and looked at the film and I made some pretty good pitches. [Marcell] Ozuna was a curveball away. He’s usually pretty bad on curveballs and he hits a rocket right back up the middle. I’m making good pitches where I want, they’re just squaring the ball up right now.”
“The ball’s up in the strike zone a little bit,” Manager Matt Williams added. “That’s what I can see. He’s aggressive, he’s throwing strikes, he’s not walking a bunch of people. They put together some nice at-bats. If anything, it’s just a little elevated. And it varies from inning to inning sometimes. But I’m not worried about him. His velocity is good, his bullpens have been great. So I don’t see any trend other than [Wednesday] he left a couple balls up and they took advantage of it.”
Zimmerman is giving up more hits per nine innings (11.2) than his career rate (8.8). That is, partly, because opponent line drive rate has spiked to 32 percent from 23 percent last season, meaning that teams are hitting Zimmermann’s pitches harder than before. That partly explains the jump in BABip (opponents’ batting average with balls in play) from .275 last season to .369 so far this season. But Zimmermann’s FIP ERA suggests the defense and bad luck may also be factors.
Throughout his career, Zimmermann has been the model of consistency. And, during his all-star 2013 season, he recovered from small rough patches, too. Zimmermann has enough of a track record for the Nationals to have faith and believe that he will solve his small recent slump.
FROM THE POST
Ryan Zimmerman has “come to some self-realizations” — and one is that his future may be in the Nationals’ outfield, writes Thomas Boswell in an insightful column.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Rochester 4, Syracuse 3: Aaron Laffey allowed four runs on 10 hits over six innings. The Chiefs fell to former Nationals top pitching prospect, Alex Meyer, who allowed two runs, one earned, over six innings and struck out eight. In his second outing since returning from the disabled list, Xavier Cedeno fired a scoreless inning and struck out two. Jhonatan Solano and Brandon Laird each drove in a run. Steven Souza Jr. drew two walks.
Harrisburg 6, Erie 4: Recent-addition Zach Kroenke allowed four runs on seven hits over six innings. Rafael Martin earned the win for three scoreless innings. Michael Taylor hit his 14th home run of the season, a two-run shot, and went 3 for 4 with three RBI. Caleb Ramsey also homered. Sean Nicol and Kevin Keyes each had two hits.
Winston-Salem 4, Potomac 0: Kylin Turnbull allowed four runs on eight hits and a walk over five innings. Shawn Pleffner had one of Potomac’s four hits, and the only extra-base hit. Khayyan Norfork, Stephen Perez and Tony Renda also had a hit each.
Hagerstown 12, Delmarva 2: Austin Voth allowed two runs on four hits over six innings and struck out seven. Rafael Bautista went 3 for 5 with six RBI, including a double and a triple. Brennan Middleton and Drew Ward each collected three hits.