KISSIMMEE, Fla. — On the whole, Jordan Zimmermann’s line was rather unremarkable on Friday. The right-hander, who’ll slot in third in the Nationals’ rotation behind Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, went five innings, allowed four earned runs off eight hits and a walk, and struck out three.
He also surrendered a solo homer to old friend Brian Bixler, who, you might recall, has never hit a major league home run in his 147-game career.
But it won’t be until his next start — the one that will be his second-to-last before the Nationals depart Florida — that Zimmermann will worry about things like that. It won’t be until then that Zimmermann will even pitch and attack hitters the way he would in a regular season game.
For example, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, Houston’s No. 8 hitter, hit a single up the middle in the fourth inning on Friday that scored a run. In the regular season, Zimmermann said, he’d have approached the entire at-bat differently.
“During the season, I probably would have worked around him and got to the pitcher,” Zimmermann said. “But down here I’m not going to give in to an eight-hole hitter.
“Next start, I’m going to take it like I do during the season and I’ll work a little differently.”
There were positives he could take from Friday, too. After 74 pitches and five full innings, the right-hander felt strong enough to continue, a good sign for him to continue building his stamina up to around six innings in his next start before the Nationals likely will back him off a bit in his final one before the season begins.
And then there was the changeup. Zimmermann has been working to develop his changeup for quite a while and this spring he’s been mixing it in each start with varying degrees of success. He hit a big milestone with it two starts ago, getting a swing-and-miss from a Cardinals minor leaguer, but Friday he talked about it with more excitement than he has after any other outing this spring.
“I threw a lot of changeups today,” Zimmermann added. “I wanted to mix in a few more and I got a couple swings-and-misses, some weak contact, a double-play ground ball (and) one that was hit back to me. It had pretty good action and good speed.
“It’s come a long way.”
– Zimmermann had one more first of the year on Friday when he got his first at-bat of the spring. Zimmermann, who hit a somewhat respectable .209 in 2011 with two walks, 11 sacrifice hits and three RBI, said the experience still felt foreign when he stepped to the plate.
“I felt like I was swinging with the wrong hand up there,” Zimmermann said of his one at-bat, in which he struck out. “He throws pretty hard. I was just hoping to make a little contact but, it didn’t quite go as planned.”