The Washington Times - July 6, 2011, 07:09PM

The Nationals considered skipping Jordan Zimmermann’s final start of the first half of the season but after manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty discussed it, Zimmermann will pitch Sunday. After the break, though, the Nationals will begin using Zimmermann more as a fifth starter.

It’s not a stretch to say that Zimmermann has been the Nationals best starting pitcher on a staff that has performed exceedingly well through much of the first half. But less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery, the Nationals are keeping Zimmermann on a roughly 160-inning limit this season. Because of that, when the team returned from the All-Star break, Zimmermann will likely go six, sometimes eight days between starts, depending on team offdays.

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Including Sunday’s expected start against the Colorado Rockies, Zimmermann is on pace for eight more starts this season.

“McCatty’s drawn up a sheet where we’ll try to get him to pitch longer so he’s got him bumped back to the fifth guy,” Johnson said. “It’s not a great situation but again his welfare is more important than any particular game.”

Zimmermann and McCatty had not yet sat down to discuss the schedule by Wednesday evening and there was still some ambiguity as to how that schedule might change should the Nationals find themselves in some kind of a playoff race as the season gets later.

For now, the plan is to stretch Zimmermann’s final seven starts after the All-Star break out enough that they can keep him going until the rosters are expanded September 1, at which point he’ll likely be shut down.

“It’s fine,” Zimmermann said. “I know I’m on an innings limit and if I’ve got to miss a start here or there, I’ve got to miss a start. It’s just something I’ve got to do right now. 

“I don’t think it’ll be that big of a deal. A little more rest would be fine. As long as there’s not a two or three week layoff, then I might have some problems. But an extra day isn’t going to hurt. I’ve pitched on extra rest before and on short rest in college. I don’t think it’s really going to affect me too much if I get an extra day or two.”

Zimmermann has thrown 108 2/3 innings this season, most of them in exemplary fashion. He’s 5-7 but has a 2.82 ERA and, until his last start on Monday, had a string of 11 straight quality starts dating back to April. Should the Nationals actually find themselves in the heat of a race come September, it will be interesting to see what they do with Zimmermann.

“I’m sure they can pull me back a little bit more if we’re in the race and right there,” Zimmermann said. “I don’t know if we’re getting close to where we need to be if they’ll let me go a little longer. All that stuff plays in. I’ll just go with the flow.”

With Zimmermann starting Sunday, that means that Ross Detwiler does not have a projected date for his next start, or if there will be a next start. For now, Johnson said he plans to use Detwiler as a second lefty and long reliever out of the bullpen but keep him on a starter’s schedule so that he would not throw on consecutive days or even every third day out of the bullpen.