“I don’t think you really need to talk about mound presence,” Zimmermann said. “You see a guy, how they act. You just have to make the change yourself. I think I’ve told him a couple times in the past, ‘You just got to be the same person, no matter what’s going on, what’s happening. You can’t show signs of weakness out there, or the other team, the hitters, they know they got you right where they want you. Even if it is going bad, you still got to be the same person.’ ”
Zimmermann’s agent, Mark Pieper, first witnessed Zimmermann’s resolve at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2007 during the pitcher’s junior season. It was March. Snow covered the ground. Fans and scouts wore ski masks, gloves and scarves. “And he was out there in a short-sleeve shirt grinding away like it was no big deal,” Pieper said.
“It comes naturally,” Zimmermann said. “I’ve never been one to smile and have a good time out there, or make it look like I’m having a good time. I’m not one to shrug my shoulders when there’s a bad play. I just try to stay even-keeled the whole time.”
Added Pieper: “There’s a general toughness to him. I think it shows. Just like all the other guys in the major leagues who are extremely talented, there’s an inner drive and a competitiveness about him. He wants to be the best. He may not talk about it.”
Even though Zimmermann’s statistics rank him among the game’s best, he has received little widespread recognition. He has never been an all-star or won an end-of-year award. He also hasn’t pitched as much as other top pitchers because of 2009 Tommy John surgery, rehabilitation during most of 2010 and a subsequent shutdown in 2011. Last season, even though he produced 24 quality starts in his 32 appearances, he lacked run support and went 12-8. More wins have brought more notice. They have not changed Zimmermann’s demeanor.
“If you can get Jordan Zimmermann to brag about himself, good luck,” Pieper said. “I haven’t been able to do that, nor will I ever.”
The Nationals have tried, too. He does not mind chatting with local reporters, but when possible he declines interview requests from national television outlets. Zimmermann also resists entreaties from Washington’s public relations staff to open a Twitter account. “I just like to fly under the radar,” he said.
Zimmermann is a star, even if he will not act like one, and the trend around baseball has seen teams lock up their best young players with contract extensions. The Nationals and Pieper have discussed a deal to keep Zimmermann in Washington long term, but the talks never materialized into the basis for a contract.
Zimmermann said he would listen to offers from the Nationals. But he seemed content to hold out for free agency, which he would be eligible for after the 2015 season.
“We talked a little bit in spring training,” Zimmermann said. “My agent and I said once the season starts, we’re going to wait until after the season. Hopefully, we’ll maybe spring something up at the end of the season or going into next season or something.
“I’d be interested, see what they have to say. At the end of the day, it’s got to be the right deal for me. I’m not just going to take a deal that’s team friendly. It’s got to be fair.”
The Nationals, then, will soon learn what major league batters have felt all season. When they stare at Zimmermann, they see a face giving away nothing, a man making them react to him, a pitcher in full command.