CINCINNATI — It didn’t end the way he would have liked, Jordan Zimmermann’s final act of the 2011 season walking off the mound with the bases loaded in the fifth inning — after issuing a bases-loaded walk — but it didn’t spoil an otherwise stellar 2011 season for the Nationals’ 25-year-old righty.
At 161 1/3 innings, Zimmermann has reached his limit for the 2011 season. He finished his first full post-Tommy John surgery year 8-11 with a 3.18 ERA and made 26 starts, most of them dominant. The run support put up around him was often times laughable and he watched a splendid start disappear on more than one occasion on one or two errant pitches late in a game.
But as he walked off the mound in Cincinnati Sunday afternoon, knowing his season was complete, he couldn’t help but wish the end had gone better.
“This start right here makes a guy want to get back on the mound,” Zimmermann said. “I’ve got to deal with it for the whole offseason. It’s going to make me work even harder and be ready for spring training.”
Zimmermann’s season was not only a success for him, but for the rest of the Nationals organization as they can only hope that Stephen Strasburg follows a similar template next year. After the longest game in Nationals’ history, Zimmermann and a few of his teammates spent a few minutes reflecting on his season.
On his overall feeling about his year: “I thought I threw the ball pretty well this year I made a few mistakes toward the end of games. Next year I’m going to try to correct that and just make better pitches toward the end. I felt like my focus was there. I just made a few bad pitches toward the end of some games and it cost us the game.”
On how he feels about his right elbow and if he lobbied to up his innings limit: “I knew things were strong at the beginning of the year and it would be fine all year… I didn’t say anything (about the limit). They pretty much had that set in stone from the beginning of the year. I wasn’t going to push the issue. It’s still semi-early in the recovery. You don’t want to throw 200 innings and have something go wrong with it. From what they said, 160 was the limit and that’s what we’re going to stick with.
On how he feels knowing he’s done for the season: “I felt great. I felt strong all year. I just want to work hard this offseason and come to spring training to be ready to go and pitch 200-plus innings next year.”
On Zimmermann’s season: “He had an outstanding year. You can’t really ask for much more from a guy. What is he, 25 years old? To go out there and pitch like that? Outstanding. That’s definitely not the best he’s going to do. I think he’s got a lot more in the tank and I’m excited to see what the future holds for him and the rest of the organization.”
On Zimmermann’s year: “I think he had a great year. The biggest thing you can offer is that he was consistent every day. He didn’t always get the run support that he needed to make his record look better. He deserves a better record for the way he threw but he’s going ot be a staple in our rotation next year and I think the way he came back, he’s going to be good guy for Strasburg to look up to being consistent like he was and coming out and taking care of his arm and being healthy from the beginning to the end. I think that’s pretty big.”
Going by the website Fangraphs and the statistic WAR (wins above replacement) that generally judges a player’s overall value, Zimmermann had the third-best season for any pitcher in Nationals history. By their ranking, only Esteban Loaiza and John Patterson in 2005 had better years. That’s an impressive feat for Zimmermann, who strung together 14 quality starts at one point this season and allowed two earned runs or less in 18 of his 26 starts this season.
Logistically, what happens next for Zimmermann is still undecided. Technically, the Nationals may have to option him to the minor leagues until rosters expand if they’d like to fill his spot on the active roster. But because of an offday on Monday, the Nationals rotation will most likely lineup as Livan Hernandez, John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang for their series in Atlanta. Rosters expand on Thursday so they could easily fill the spot in the rotation (which would come up next on Saturday) without having to move Zimmermann at all. If they do decide to option him, however, they could fill his spot with an extra player (reliever or position player) before Thursday and then just call him back up when rosters expand on Thursday.
Stephen Strasburg will assume Zimmermann’s spot in the rotation, presumably, once he finishes his minor league rehab assignment. His final start is expected to come on Thursday, Sept. 1. His first major league start could then be as soon as Sept. 6.