Nationals Pitcher Jordan Zimmermann Emerges as Strong Prospect This Spring

Jordan Zimmermann, shown pitching on Feb. 26 against Detroit, has not allowed a run this spring. "He continues to impress everybody here," Manager Manny Acta said yesterday.
Jordan Zimmermann, shown pitching on Feb. 26 against Detroit, has not allowed a run this spring. "He continues to impress everybody here," Manager Manny Acta said yesterday. (By David J. Phillip -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

VIERA, Fla., March 10 -- Jordan Zimmermann appeared quite serious Tuesday when he assessed his latest spring outing thusly: "Unfortunately, today I didn't get settled in too well. I guess you'll have those days." He all but sighed.

Only moments before, his manager, Manny Acta, had considered precisely the same performance, and come up with a different determination. "He continues," Acta said, "to impress everybody here."

The Nationals have assembled here in search of truly positive, promising story lines, and in a spring otherwise filled with controversy -- the demolition and reconstruction of their operation in the Dominican Republic, the resignation of General Manager Jim Bowden -- Zimmermann has emerged as a legitimate prospect for a franchise that desperately needs several.

He is just 22 and was hurling for Wisconsin-Stevens Point at this time two years ago, recovering, too, from having two plates and 11 screws inserted in his jaw, which was broken by a line drive. Now he is perhaps two or three more effective outings from breaking camp with the Nationals and being inserted into the starting rotation, in part because, as near-namesake Ryan Zimmerman said, "He's not afraid out there -- at all."

"That's what I was told, that this kid's a different kid," Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. "And when he came into camp, you can see it. He's all business. No messing around when he takes the field. When he's warming up, he's completely focused on what he's doing."

The third outing of Zimmermann's first major league spring training came against the New York Mets in what became a 5-5 tie Tuesday. And even though, by his own estimation, he "really had to battle all day," he has yet to allow a run this spring. He allowed the first two Mets to reach base, then retired the next three, two on strikeouts. Two innings later, he allowed his first walk of the spring, one that was followed by a single, and induced an inning-ending double play.

And though his outing ended after 3 1/3 innings -- he was scheduled to go four, but his pitch count grew to 62 -- his numbers are undeniable: 8 1/3 innings, four hits, no runs, two walks and 10 strikeouts. Yes, they are spring numbers, early spring numbers at that. But for Washington, couple the performances with Zimmermann's countenance, and they represent promise.

"I'm real comfortable," Zimmermann said. He shows that in the clubhouse by not making a peep, hardly saying a word.

"I only see him here at the national anthem or when he's pitching," Acta said. "That's the way he is. He hasn't been intimidated at all."

Go back to college, then, for one of the first examples of how Zimmermann handled a situation that would rattle most anyone. On Feb. 20, 2007, as the Wisconsin-Stevens Point Pointers were preparing for their first few games of the season, Zimmermann threw a live, simulated game indoors. He worked behind a screen, and his stuff was, as Acta calls it now, "electric."

"He probably struck out five of the first six guys he faced," said his coach, Pat Bloom. Bloom's brother Garett, then a sophomore player, stepped in, and Zimmermann quickly got two strikes on him. But on the third pitch, "He stayed on it," Pat Bloom said, "and took it up the middle."

"I kind of just ducked out of the way," Zimmermann said. But it didn't work. The ball caught him flush in the right side of his face. That night, in the emergency room, Bloom sat with Zimmermann, Zimmermann's mother and his girlfriend. His junior season, not to mention his status in the June draft, appeared at stake.

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