Jordan Zimmermann has now allowed six earned runs in back-to-back starts, leaving many to wonder if something is wrong with the Nats ace who had sported an ERA below 3.00 for much of the season.
Prior to his current two game skid, which has seen his ERA balloon from 2.66 to 3.27, Zimmermann had allowed no earned runs in four of his previous six starts. His tremendous season had left many to believe he had been snubbed as a potential All-Star selection, and more importantly, had Nats fans excited about the potential dual aces they could have for 2012 once he would finally be combined with Stephen Strasburg in the same rotation.
However, his current two game skid may have some thinking in the back of their mind that there might be something physically wrong with Zimmermann. Call it neuroticism, but Nats fans have not had a lot of luck with their pitching prospects over the past few seasons. Zimmermann himself was in the midst of a great rookie campaign in 2009 before he went down to Tommy John surgery. Then there was Strasburg last year who also fell to elbow surgery, and promising youngster Cole Kimball will need shoulder surgery now after making only 12 appearances in Washington.
Fortunately for the Nats, it doesn’t appear that there are any real signs of injury for Zimmermann. In his past two starts his fastball has averaged a healthy 93.3 MPH, and his slider has come in at 85 MPH. Those velocities are consistent with his season averages, which indicates that he isn’t holding anything back on his pitches. He has also shown actually shown better control of late. He had allowed at least one walk in 15 of his first 18 starts, however he has allowed no free passes in his last three trips to the hill.
One glaring difference between his last two starts, and his others, is the absence of catcher Ivan Rodriguez. For most of the season Pudge had been Zimmermann’s catcher, and it had seemed that his veteran knowledge had helped the 25-year-old. The past three starts however Rodriguez has been down with an injury and Zimmermann has been inconsistent. In his first start with Ramos behind the plate he allowed no earned runs in 6.1 innings pitched. In his last two he has given up 12 earned runs in 11.2 innings pitched combined.
Another thing for Nats fans to consider is that even the best starting pitchers have a few rough stretches throughout their season where they don’t look like aces. Cliff Lee, for example, is one of the league leaders in strikeouts this season, but he’s allowed five or more earned runs in two of his past four starts. Jair Jurrjens, who entered the All-Star beak leading the National League with a 1.87 ERA, has allowed four runs or more in his last two starts as well.
It is easy for the Washington faithful to get concerned when they see their young star struggling, especially when the Nats recent history with pitchers is examined. But it’s important not to overreact and to let the young star work his way through his difficulties. If the club were to shut him down early, he would never be able to leave the season knowing he found his footing, which is an important mental step.