A Pitching Duel at Nats Park

May 6, 2013

Tonight’s game between Washington and Detroit will feature two of the hottest pitchers in their respective leagues. The Nationals’ Jordan Zimmermann is 5-1 with a 1.64 ERA in six starts. The Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez is 3-2 with a 1.82 ERA through six games. Sanchez’s 17 strikeouts against Atlanta on April 26 set a franchise record. Here’s a look at what to expect when Zimmermann and Sanchez take the mound tonight.

Three Keys for Zimmermann

1. First-pitch strikes. When successful, Zimmermann hits the strike zone early. In six starts, he’s averaging 13.1 pitches per inning, with 44 innings pitched. Out of his 576 pitches, 66 percent of them (381) have gone for strikes. Zimmermann can compete against any lineup with those kinds of numbers.

2. His change-up. One of the reasons for Zimmermann’s hot start is the increased use of his change-up, a pitch the right-hander has been developing his entire career. He throws the pitch less than 4 percent of the time, but the more frequent use of his change-up has added unpredictability to his pitch sequence.

3. Too much rest? Zimmermann has had his best outings after just four days of rest. He’s gone at least eight innings and earned a win in all three starts after four days off. Before Tuesday’s game, he will have rested for five days. The last time Zimmermann had an extra day off, he threw 96 pitches and allowed two runs in five innings in a 2-0 loss to the Mets.

Three Keys for Sanchez

1. Keeping it in the park. Sanchez has not allowed a home run in his six starts, doing a good job of keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate. The right-hander has struck out a combined 33 batters in his three wins this season. He also had nine strikeouts in a May 1 loss to Minnesota.

2. Getting ahead in counts. Pitchers obviously want to throw strikes to put hitters in tough spots, and Sanchez’s stats while ahead in counts are staggering. In 40 at-bats after the hitter was in an 0-2 hole, Sanchez has not allowed a single hit all year. Meanwhile, after a 2-0 count, batters are hitting .455 against him.

3. Having his top pitch working. Sanchez’s primary pitch is a four-seam fastball, which has worked well lately. In a 10-0 win over Atlanta on April 26, Sanchez’s four-seamer was clocked at an average of 93.6 mph. When that pitch is working, it makes Sanchez’s slider even more effective. Against the Braves that night, his slider produced eight swings and misses.

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Jeffrey Tomik · May 6, 2013