Zimmermann shut down the Milwaukee Brewers in the Washington Nationals’ 4-1 victory, his latest sparkling outing. He allowed one run over six innings against the team he grew up rooting for while the Nationals supported him with three homers. Corey Brown replaced late scratch Bryce Harper and drilled a solo home run for his first career hit. Fellow rookie Tyler Moore and Ryan Zimmerman added homers that put the game out of reach.
When Zimmermann starts, four runs are more than enough. Manager Davey Johnson revealed afterward that Zimmermann has been pitching through minor arm trouble, which the right-hander cast aside as standard for any pitcher. Saturday night, the results could not be argued with. “Zim,” Johnson said, “was Zim.”
By a quirk of the schedule, Zimmermann had never pitched professionally in his home state, in the stadium where he watched games in high school, about a three-hour drive from his tiny home town. He once threw an American Legion all-star game at Miller Park, but not in the majors.
He secured 45 tickets but about 200 of his friends, family members and former teammates from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point came. Many wore navy shirts reading “Auburndale Pride.” Zimmermann could see red Nationals gear dotting the crowd behind home plate.
“It was definitely awesome,” Zimmermann said. “A dream come true to pitch in front of my family and friends who came out to watch. I’m just glad I gave them a good showing.”
They saw a 26-year-old who has become one of the best pitchers in baseball, a strike-throwing machine with robotic poise. He has thrown at least six innings in his past 21 starts, a streak surpassed only by Justin Verlander. Zimmermann has allowed one or zero earned runs in seven straight outings. Saturday, he lowered his ERA to 2.28.
He struck out six, walked one and gave up five hits, two of them weak singles. He struck out reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun twice, both times swinging at a four-seam fastball. He threw 69 strikes in his 93 pitches.
Johnson pulled Zimmermann with 95 pitches or less for the third straight start. Zimmermann has had trouble getting his shoulder loose when playing catch. The issue has not made the Nationals consider giving him time off, but it has given them pause.
“We’re a little concerned about that,” Johnson said. “We’re holding all his pitches down. He’s fine. But it concerns me anytime someone has a little trouble getting loose. Anytime any little thing goes on like that, it concerns me.”