The Washington Times - July 5, 2011, 07:06PM

The Nationals have been planning all season to keep right-hander Jordan Zimmermann on an innings limit. Now just reaching the two-year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery, the Nationals would like to keep Zimmermann to about 160 innings this season. Because of that limit, there’s a good chance he will not make another start before next week’s All-Star break.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty were discussing Zimmermann’s innings limit this afternoon and are expected to make a decision on whether he will or will not start Sunday (his next projected turn in the rotation) before the All-Star break. The Nationals have already skipped his turn in the rotation once in order to help keep his innings low and they can rearrange their rotation coming out of the All-Star break so that Zimmermann can be stretched a little between starts.

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“We want to do what’s best for him,” Johnson said. “If it’s best for him, it’s best for the team, not only today but in the long run. He’ll get more rest between starts at times and he’s been so good that by early September, he’ll probably be in shutdown mode.”

Zimmermann’s innings limit — and the fact that tonight’s starter, Ross Detwiler, is left-handed —  could keep Detwiler with the team longer than a spot-start. Detwiler would be on regular rest to make Zimmermann’s start on Sunday after starting Tuesday night.

Detwiler could also fill a void Johnson feels he has both in his bullpen and on his roster as a left-hander out of the bullpen who could also be used as a long reliever. With Doug Slaten hurt, Sean Burnett is the only left-hander in the Nationals bullpen.

“He’s not somebody that, as far as I’m concerned, we called up just for one start,” Johnson said. “We talked before about me having another left-hander and you might have wrestle me to get him out of here.

“I will say this, he is so valuable that if (Nationals GM Mike Rizzo) lets me keep him, I will still use him in a rotational role out of the pen as if he was starting. He won’t be coming back on short rest. He’ll have side work. That’s my feeling.”

Johnson pointed to the Philadelphia Phillies as an example for keeping an extra starter in the bullpen. Earlier this season the Phillies used Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley out of the bullpen and in a spot-start role.

“Their starters a pretty damn good,” Johnson said. “It’s not like I’m trying to reeinvent the wheel. It’s a comfort area. If one of my pitchers is down warming up and he got a little tender, I don’t want to run him out there and hurt him. Or if something happens like with (Jason Marquis) on Sunday. I want to have insurance here, rather than stretch a guy out.”