Yesterday, Jordan Zimmermann was asked what he wanted to work on this spring. “Change-up,” he replied. He said the same thing last year. The Jordan Zimmermann Change-up Watch has become a rite of Nationals spring training.

He hopes and expects this season will be different. Last year, Zimmermann spent the spring trying to hone a new and improved change-up, for which he had devised a more comfortable grip. Then during the regular season he threw it 2.2 percent of his pitches – the same as in 2011.

“It was definitely the trust issue wasn’t there, and not knowing when to throw it,” Zimmermann said. “A lot of guys like to throw it when they’re down 2-0 and can get something over the middle. The guys are looking for a heater, and they’re going to roll over. I was to the point where I wasn’t very confident. I’m not going to throw it 2-0 and then get down 3-0 and really have my hands full.”

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Zimmermann’s lack of a change-up did not prevent him from becoming an excellent pitcher in 2012. He punched up a 2.94 ERA in over 195 2/3 innings, with 7.04 strikeouts and 1.98 walks per nine innings. But it did keep him from becoming the best version of himself, especially against right-handed hitters.

Against Zimmermann, right-handers hit .268 with a .723 OPS. Left-handers hit .234 with a .650 OPS. His combinations of hard fastballs, sharp sliders and sweeping curves were harder for lefties to hit than right-handers, a “reverse split.” Without a change-up, Zimmermann had no pitch that moved in to a right-hander – they could effectively eliminate half the plate once the ball left his hand, knowing the ball wouldn’t veer inside.

The change-up, which moves toward righties and away from lefties, would equalize things for Zimmermann. This spring, he is intent on making it a regular part of his arsenal. He spent the winter throwing more change-ups than ever, and he threw a bushel of them yesterday during live batting practice.

“He looks good,” said Carlos Maldonado, who caught Zimmermann yesterday. “He had good arm speed. The speed on the fastball and the change-up were a lot different.”

Zimmermann told the hitters what was coming, which limited how much he could sense how effective his change-ups were. But he liked the way they felt out of his hand, and he is eager to try them in a game.

“I’m at a point now where I’m going to feel comfortable throwing it,” Zimmermann said. “I don’t know if I’m to the point I want to throw it 2-0 yet. Maybe 2-1 or something like that. I’d think about throwing it. It’s going to take a lot of work. I can’t wait to face some teams where I can throw it a little bit. At least let them see it, let them know that I have something.”


Ross Detwiler is in a good place this spring after a dominant second half and a humbling trip to visit U.S. troops this winter.


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