Nationals Have Ace in the Hole

Charles E. Sutton | 9/26/2012, 12:41 p.m.

Zimmermann Slides Under the Radar

If you're not paying close attention, you may not even notice that Jordan Zimmermann is present.

The Nationals right-handed pitcher doesn't bring with him the expectations and oversized reputation of Stephen Strasburg, nor is he a joking, grinning extrovert like Gio Gonzalez. Zimmermann is merely the guy who gets paid to pitch in their shadows.

And by the way, he's quite good at it. For the sake of comparison, Gonzalez won his 20th game Saturday against the Milwaukee Brewers. He became the first 20-game winner of the 2012 season, and the first pitcher ever to win 20 games in the National League after having pitched in the American League. Gonzalez is now looking to nail down the National League Cy Young award. He has pitched 193 innings this season, allowing 61 earned runs, good for a 2.84 ERA.

Zimmermann has pitched 183 innings, giving up 60 earned runs. His ERA is 2.96. Last Wednesday, he allowed just one run in six innings, and brought a halt to the Nationals' three-game losing streak. By doing so, he picked up his 11th victory.

What's the difference? The Nationals have put up 5.17 runs in games started by Gonzalez. On the other hand, they score 4.63 runs in games started by Zimmermann. His latest quality start (six innings or more, three runs or less) came in a stadium that was nearly empty because last Tuesday's rainout led to an unscheduled doubleheader and a 4 p.m. start. It marked Zimmermann's 22nd quality start, as opposed to Gonzalez's 20.

"Definitely, fastball command was there today," catcher Kurt Suzuki said last Wednesday. "The key today was, he made the pitch when he needed to. That's a good sign."

With the regular season drawing to a close, Zimmermann's outing provided additional evidence that he has rebounded from a troubling August. During a span of six starts between August 4 and September 1, he gave up four earned runs twice and eight earned runs once. He pitched at least six innings only once. Before that, he had pitched at least six innings in each of his 21 starts.

Zimmermann has a 2.50 ERA in his last three starts, which is quite reassuring. Given the shutdown of Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals' postseason rotation will face increased scrutiny. Zimmermann will finally emerge from under the radar.