“The second baseman gave me a heart attack,” Johnson said. “I mentioned it to him: ‘We got a lead, we get the out.’ ”
When DJ LeMahieu rolled a single to right and scored a run, Zimmermann had real trouble. The Rockies trailed 5-1, but Gonzalez stood at the plate.
Two infielders filibustered at the mound, giving time for two relievers warm in the bullpen. Zimmermann knew he needed to retire Gonzalez to stay in the game. McCatty came to the mound next to stall further. “Just relax,” McCatty told him. “Make a pitch, and we’ll get out of here.”
Plate umpire Joe West walked out and told them to hurry it up.
They left Zimmermann alone on the mound and he worked a 2-2 count. Gonzalez had taken a wicked hack against a fastball up. Last year in that spot, Zimmermann would have tried another fastball higher, or maybe a slider inside. Now, he commanded Suzuki to let him throw a change.
“I figured if I get a change-up anywhere close, he was going to swing at it. It was down in the bottom corner,” Zimmermann said. “It was a pretty good pitch. I’m probably going slider in or another fastball. Being able to whip that out late in the game is going to be big.”
“Confidence,” Suzuki said.
Zimmermann twirled the change, and it worked to perfection. Gonzalez screwed himself into the ground. He was looking down the first base line as the ball settled into Suzuki’s glove.
“He trusts it,” McCatty said. “He’s growing as a pitcher. When he needed to, he made a real quality pitch with it.”
Zimmermann had spent Thursday night stockpiling borderline-silly feats of efficient dominance. All 15 of his first-inning pitches went for strikes. In the fourth inning, he struck out Gonzalez with two 97 mph fastballs.
Zimmermann’s first two-ball count came against the 14th batter he faced, Nolan Arenado, whom he struck out with a curveball in the dirt. After four innings, he had thrown 41 strikes and eight balls. After Todd Helton singled to lead off the second inning, Zimmermann retired the next 16 batters.
“He’s right up there (with any pitcher we’ve seen this year),” Rockies Manager Walt Weiss said. “He’s impressive. Like I said, it’s a big power arm and he commands it.”