The Washington athlete I’m most enjoying right now is not Alex Ovechkin or Bryce Harper or even Robert Griffin III jumping up and down on his surgically repaired knee (although all of them are entertaining, no doubt).
No, it’s Jordan Zimmermann, the extra-n’d Zimmerman(n) who is not the face of the franchise, whose hair just looks like . . . hair and who is the pitcher who came through Tommy John surgery without any hoopla — and apparently no diminution of talent.
Zimmermann, who will turn 27 later this month, is the best pitcher in the Nationals’ rotation this season. Not Stephen Strasburg. Not last year’s Cy Young candidate, Gio Gonzalez or offseason acquisition Dan Haren or even perennially underappreciated Ross Detwiler. It’s Zimmermann. And he happens to be among the very best in the National League — 5-1, 1.64 ERA, seven walks, 27 strikeouts — as well.
That’s the thing about Zimmermann: He is a complete pitcher. He can strike out batters — eight in his last start in Atlanta, six earlier this season against Miami — but he also throws some groundballs (“It’s more democratic!”) and his WHIP (walks plus hits per inning) is a svelte 0.75, as of Friday the best in the National League.
Perhaps the most impressive stat: two complete games in six starts. The first came not long after Manager Davey Johnson said the Nats wouldn’t be throwing any complete games early in the season, thank you very much; they would wait for their starters to warm up a bit. Then Johnson got a belly full of his bullpen, and there went Zimmermann, finishing what he started.
Zimmermann is more than warm; he’s hot. His five wins were one-third of the Nats’ win total entering the weekend. He has given up five hits and two runs in his last three starts – combined. And one of those was a 2-0 loss to the Mets, a sad return to the days when the Nats gave Zimmermann absolutely no run support. He has pitched 18 consecutive scoreless innings. Yikes.
Harper’s bat and Zimmermann’s arm have kept the Nats respectable, not the adjective they aspired to before the season began or in early May but one they should be happy to have considering some of their poor play.
Zimmermann made his Nats debut in April 2009, and by August, he was undergoing Tommy John surgery. He was expected to be out 18 months but returned to the Nats in about 12 months, making his return start the same night the team learned Strasburg would need the same procedure.
To those who still question whether the Nats should have shut down Strasburg early last season, the object lesson should be Zimmermann. And if you think the club somehow cares more about Strasburg’s arm than Zimmermann’s just because it came with a higher price tag, you haven’t see General Manager Mike Rizzo’s face light up at the mere mention of Zimmermann. He loved the kid before surgery, during surgery and after surgery.
And for those who worry about Strasburg’s struggles this season, consider that he’s one year behind Zimmermann. Strasburg may not be the pitcher everyone wants him to be so far this year, but if he recovers at Zimmermann’s pace, he may still be a year away from his best stuff. With his superior speed and dizzying array of pitches, that would make next season pretty interesting.
For now, of course, this season is the concern. Zimmermann gets his next start Tuesday at home against the Detroit Tigers, and only the Caps playing in New York would keep me from seeing my favorite team stand in against D.C.’s hottest athlete. I love the Tigers, but I may have to consider changing my name to Hamiltonn.
For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.