Zimmermann leads Nats over Marlins

Zimmermann leads Nats over Marlins
July 14, 2012, 4:20 am
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MIAMI -- There are only two pitchers in the majors leagues this season who have made 18 starts and never failed to complete six innings. One is Justin Verlander, the reigning AL MVP, Cy Young Award winner and All-Star Game starter.

The other is Jordan Zimmermann.

Zimmermann has no hardware on his mantel. He's never been named an All-Star. He's not even considered one of the three most-accomplished members of the Nationals rotation.

Make no mistake, though, the 26-year-old right-hander is plenty appreciated inside his own clubhouse, especially when he throws six scoreless innings and leads the Nationals to a 5-1 victory over the Marlins like he did Friday night.

"Unfortunately a lot of things are based on wins and losses for pitchers, and unfortunately we've never scored a lot of runs for him, ever, and he doesn't get that many wins," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "But he's Mr. Consistency, I guess you could say. You know what you're going to get out of him. Never too emotional. He's the same guy every time."

And that guy most often pitches well enough to win. He frequently doesn't emerge with another notch in the W column, the byproduct of some of the worst run support in baseball over the last two years. But on nights like this, when his teammates jump out to a 5-0 lead on a lackluster Marlins club, Zimmermann starts looking more and more like an elite big-league pitcher.

"Last year, I thought he pitched like a No. 1," manager Davey Johnson said. "And he's continued it this year. And he's been getting not hardly any run support. He's grown up, to me, even more so this year."

The stats are starting to reflect that. It's not only Zimmermann's ability to eat up innings each time he takes the mound. It's his ability to hold the opposition to as few runs as possible.

He's been credited with 16 quality starts in 18 tries, including eight straight. He's surrendered zero or one earned run in 10 of those 18 starts, including four straight.

Zimmermann's season ERA now sits at 2.48, which now ranks fifth in the National League. Better than Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. Better than All-Star starter Matt Cain. Better than Verlander.

Not that the soft-spoken Wisconsin native makes a big deal out of it.

"That's what I try to do every time out, go 6-7-8 innings," he said. "I guess this year I've just been lucky enough to put a nice little streak together."

Friday night's start might well have been Zimmermann's best of the season. He retired eight in a row at one point, striking out four consecutive batters. And when he completed the sixth inning on only 87 pitches, he appeared poised to go much deeper into the night.

Johnson, though, had already decided he wasn't going to push his young starter in this game. Zimmermann hadn't thrown a ball at all during his four-day All-Star break -- he did, on the other hand, catch a bunch of walleye near his home in Auburndale, Wisc. -- and his manager didn't want to take any chances.

"I was kind of a little quick on the hook because I felt like I didn't know what he did over the break," Johnson said. "And I wasn't going to let him throw over 90 pitches."

So Johnson handed the ball to his bullpen with a five-run lead in the seventh, then watched as Henry Rodriguez nearly made a game of it. The erratic right-hander issued two walks and an RBI single over a four-batter span, and suddenly Johnson was summoning Michael Gonzalez to get out of the jam.

The veteran left-hander did it as efficiently as possible. He recorded two outs on one pitch, snagging Austin Kearns' comebacker and then tossing to first base to complete the double play that killed the Marlins' one hope of getting back in the game.

The rest of the night was matter of fact, with three more relievers combining to record the final six outs and ensure Zimmermann would be credited with his sixth win against six losses.

Afterward, Mr. Consistency was stoic as usual, happy to get the win, not at all upset to have received the quick hook from his manager.

"We had a fresh bullpen, and I think that's what Davey was thinking, too," Zimmermann said. "Give those guys some work. Six innings and no runs and hand it over to one of the better bullpens? I'll live with that."