PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — When Jordan Zimmermann watched Mets left fielder Jason Bay flail at a breaking pitch for strike three on Wednesday afternoon, he turned and solemnly walked off the mound toward the Nationals’ dugout. That strikeout made it four scoreless innings for Zimmermann and he’d faced the minimum (with the help of a double play).
He was not just effective, he was ridiculously efficient.
When he sat down in the dugout, Zimmermann had thrown just 38 pitches. He was on pace to throw a complete game in 86 pitches. This being spring training and all, he didn’t. But he finished six superb innings with 68 pitches, 47 strikes.
He became the first Nationals starter to throw six innings this spring and manager Davey Johnson was ready to send him out for a seventh but Zimmermann developed a blister on one of his feet in the sixth inning so he called it a day.
“That was superb, to say the least,” Johnson said. “That’s him. That’s who we’ve grown to know and love.”
Zimmermann had a strong fastball, clocked in the 92-94 mph range on the stadium scoreboard at Digital Domain Park, and he noted a strong curveball (which) he was able to throw in the dirt for strike three on third baseman Justin Turner. And “the slider was really good today,” Zimmermann admitted.
“When I’m getting ground balls like that and keeping the defense in the ballgame, that’s what I want to do,” he said. “I feel pretty pleased right now. I feel like I’m peaking at the right time. All my pitches are working well. I’m happy with where I’m at.”
For Zimmermann, one of his main stumbling blocks in 2011 was finishing off an outing. He’d find himself needing to make one pitch to close out a superb start and that pitch would wind up not where he intended. It was a small but perhaps telling sign, then, when Zimmermann induced an infield pop-up from Scott Hairston with two outs and a runner on third in the sixth.
“I wasn’t going to give in and throw him a fastball and see what he could do with it,” Zimmermann said. I threw him a slider, a pretty good one, and he popped it up.”
First baseman Xavier Nady came scrambling in toward the front of the mound to call of Zimmermann at the last second (“Thank God I didn’t have to catch the ball,” Zimmermann said.) and the inning was over, as was his day.
His mindset changed this start as well. Zimmermann talked with pitching coach Steve McCatty before taking the mound Wednesday about going after the Mets’ hitters the same way he would if this were the regular season. Zimmermann did exactly that.
He will have one more spring start, Monday in Fort Myers, before he takes the mound in the series finale in Chicago on April 8.