Washington Nationals spring training: Jordan Zimmermann ready for first full season after Tommy John surgery

After a busy offseason, the Nationals open spring training in Viera, Fla.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2011; 12:14 AM

IN VIERA, FLA. On June 7, 2007, at the house in which his mother raised him in Auburndale, Wis., Jordan Zimmermann received a call from a Washington Nationals official telling him he had been drafted in the second round. After a short conversation, he walked into his mother's living room and all but shrugged. "Well," Zimmermann said. "That's done."

Kris Zimmermann was not surprised by her son's blank reaction. She would often take him hunting, and when he was 16, Jordan shot and killed his first buck. She could tell he was excited. She told him to kneel behind the dead animal, the classic hunter's pose. "Come on, Jordan," she said. "Smile." Stone-faced, he continued with a chore - he already started gutting the deer.

"He just wouldn't smile," Kris Zimmermann said in a phone conversation, laughing at the memory. "That's him. He doesn't really show emotion."

Jordan Zimmermann, then, has offered few outward clues about what this spring training means to him. Last year at this time, he was healing from Tommy John surgery, not quite ready to throw off a pitcher's mound, still months away from a major league ballpark. Zimmermann, 24, enters this year as a key piece of the Nationals' rotation, his right arm able to perform whatever task he wants.

The Nationals will rely on Zimmermann, now that he has overcome the challenge currently facing Stephen Strasburg. Zimmermann could fit into the rotation anywhere from second to fourth. By the time he pitches the full, undetermined allotment of innings the Nationals are limiting him to this year, he may very well be their best pitcher.

"I'm excited to get going here," Zimmermann said Friday in his polite monotone. His full health means, mostly, he can blend in with the rest of his teammates. On Friday, he was eagerly awaiting the arrival of 2010 first overall pick Bryce Harper, someone who would attract the media's attention - and take away any he might have otherwise received.

"I'm just quiet, low-key," Zimmermann said. "I don't like to cause a big scene, I guess. I don't really like the attention. I'm glad Strasburg came and took that away. And now Harper's coming in. I'm way down there where I want to be."

Zimmermann cracked a smile as he spoke, a rare event. "If you can get a smile out of him, that's good" his mother said. Zimmermann can become more effusive and show his witty, dry sense of humor around teammates and coaches. Pitching coach Steve McCatty likes to tease him about his home town and the "igloo" he grew up in.

"He can talk crap with everybody else," McCatty said.

In public and on the mound, Zimmermann conceals his feelings. McCatty can tell if he is frustrated during a game, he but he has to look close. "He hides his emotion pretty good," McCatty said.

During his junior season at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a line drive during practice broke Zimmermann's jaw. Doctors wired his mouth shut, and he could not speak or eat solid food. But weeks later, when his team traveled to Florida for a tournament, "We knew we weren't going to be able to hold him back," Stevens-Point Coach Pat Bloom said.

Doctors worried the wiring would come undone when Zimmermann exerted himself. His coaches knew better.

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