ATLANTA — Despite plans to do otherwise, Nationals manager Davey Johnson clarified today that the Nationals will not be treating right-hander Jordan Zimmermann as a fifth starter in the second half and they will not stretch out his remaining 45 innings to get them to the September 1 roster expansion date.
Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty had been setting up a schedule for the Nationals rotation to work around Zimmermann’s 160-inning limit this season — his first full one since 2009 Tommy John surgery. But Johnson rethought that plan and decided that Zimmermann, the team’s best pitcher, would be better suited to stay on regular rest and pitch on his regular turn through the rotation. When he hits his limit, they’ll shut him down for the season.
“He’s throwing so good,” Johnson said. “He’s not a fifth starter and treating him like a fifth starter where we’ve got off days or missing a start, I wasn’t sure that was the best way for him to finish out this year. I think him getting regular work, regular side throwing, regular games until he runs out of innings and then just let him rest (is best).”
That would give Zimmermann roughly six more starts (at an average of seven innings per start) and would leave him shutdown after an August 18 start against the Cincinnati Reds. At that point, the Nationals will likely be at no shortage for starting pitchers as they could still have both left-hander Ross Detwiler on the team and will most likely activate right-hander Chien-Ming Wang for his first major league action since 2009 by then.
Wang, who pitched six scoreless innings Thursday night for Double-A Harrisburg, has now thrown 18 rehab innings and allowed just two earned runs. He’s continued to build up his arm strength and reached 75 pitches Thursday night. The goal is to get him to between 90 and 100 pitches consistently as well as to see expected velocity. Thursday night, Wang did well in that department, comfortably hitting 92 and touching 94 mph.
Wang is out of options so when his rehab assignment runs out, barring a setback, on July 27, the Nationals will have to find room for him immediately on the active major league roster. If he continues to pitch the way he has in the minors, that will not be an issue and could provide a surprising boost to a rotation that’s been one of the team’s strengths all season.
“This guy’s stick-to-itiveness is really admirable,” said Nationals GM Mike Rizzo. “It’s been such a tough road for him to hoe down in Viera for two years by himself. The guy was on such a big stage and been such a successful pitcher so I’m really happy for him.”
“I saw him a lot when he was good,” Johnson said. “And I saw him when he was having trouble making his regular delivery and I saw him this spring throwing nice and easy. I read the report on him that he threw really good last time out. The main thing is I think he’s going to get a couple more starts and then hopefully he’ll feel consistent. He’ll get up to about 90 pitches and then it’s just like coming out of spring training.
“If he does what he did the last time out, I’ll find a spot for him.”