Jordan Zimmermann has been dealing with a stiff neck for much of this year, it was the reason he cited for skipping the 2013 All-Star game. But though he took precaution in sitting out a few days in July, Zimmermann hasn’t been the same in the season’s second half.
Before the July 16 All-Star game, Zimmermann was 12-4 with a 2.58 ERA, but since he’s gone 1-2 with a 6.75 mark. Through the four total starts his neck issue hadn’t been spoken of, that is until now.
Manager Davey Johnson said after Wednesday’s loss it could be making a difference.
“I think he’s having some problems, his usual problem, a little tightness.”
Johnson said Zimmermann is not expected to receive testing on the neck and they’re hoping an extra off day – the Nats pick back up on Friday – will help. The manager was under the impression Zimmermann was past the injury, but that may not be the case.
“Hopefully it’s not as bad as it was before,” Johnson said.
Zimmermann denied feeling stiffness in his neck after the Nats’ 6-3 loss, as he has for much of this year. Johnson and his pitcher have had conflicting takes at times this season, from whether Zimmermann was wearing a neck brace before a given game to whether he is feeling pain at all.
Whatever is going on, Zimmermann hasn’t been the effective starter that earned the All-Star nod. In 18 2/3 innings since the break, Zimmermann has allowed 14 earned runs off 25 hits. He has 11 walks through those starts compared to 18 across 132 1/3 innings in the first half. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 5.28 before the break, it’s 1.72 after.
The control that made Zimmermann an elite pitcher has started to elude him and the right-hander is now searching for answers.
“I have no clue,” he said. “I feel like my stuff's the same. Just maybe missing over the middle a little bit and making a few mistakes when there's runners on. Early in the year I had runners on and I'd make a good pitch and be able to get out of it. Right now it's just not going my way.”
Zimmermann was taken out after just four innings despite the score being tied at 2-2. He finished with two earned runs on seven hits and two walks against the Braves.
Though he called his stuff “really good” in the start, Zimmermann wasn’t shocked he was removed early.
“I mean I didn't have a clean inning out of any of the four,” he said. “Every inning the leadoff guy seemed like he was on. Like I said, I had good stuff. I just fell behind or let them back in the count when I had them 0-2."
Zimmermann isn’t expected to miss any time due to the injury at this point, but it could be something to watch moving forward, especially if the Nats’ season continues on its current track. With the losses mounting and the playoffs becoming further out of reach, there may soon be less of an incentive to pitch through pain.