PHILADELPHIA — Jordan Zimmermann has been battling a lingering kink in his neck for at least the last seven weeks.
Now, just as the Washington Nationals’ right-hander is receiving the accolades and attention that comes with establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in the game, Zimmermann may have to skip the All-Star Game in hopes of finally getting past the issue.
“It’s a possibility,” Zimmermann said after the Nationals’ 3-1 loss to the Phillies of skipping his first All-Star Game.
“I’m not really sure yet what I’m going to do, but we’ll see how the next few days go, and go from there.”
It was on May 24 that Zimmermann’s neck issue was first brought to the attention of the Nationals’ trainers and staff. That night, the right-hander went out, tossed seven innings and allowed just two earned runs to lead the Nationals to a 5-2 victory over the Phillies.
Zimmermann has been spotted wearing a heating pad on his neck on occasion, particularly on days he starts, and has been getting continuous treatment from the training staff to help him keep his neck loose.
Once it’s loose, he has no problems pitching with it.
But the issue, which he said feels like a kink but can give him trouble on either side of his neck depending on the day, refuses to go away entirely. That has left Zimmermann with a decision to make regarding next week’s mid-summer classic.
“I’d rather be healthy for the second half than pitch in that,” Zimmermann said. “I’d like to pitch in it, but I’m not going to go out there and just pitch an inning and have to battle the whole second half.”
On Thursday night, Zimmermann said the pain was not as bad as it was in his previous start, when he went 5 1/3 innings and allowed three runs to the Padres on a steamy day in the District.
Still, the issue played into manager Davey Johnson’s decision to remove Zimmermann after just 6 1/3 innings and with a relatively low pitch count. More often than not, Johnson would’ve left Zimmermann in despite having just allowed the go-ahead run on a double by Kevin Frandsen. Frandsen hit an 0-2 slider that Zimmermann tried to bury but left up, though off the plate, and center fielder Denard Span couldn’t get to it in time.
Knowing Zimmermann’s been dealing with the neck issue, Johnson then opted to call for lefty Ian Krol to handle Ben Revere and Jimmy Rollins.
“I know that’s still a lingering problem with Jordan,” Johnson said. “So normally I wouldn’t probably go get him in that situation, but I just felt like he pitched a great ballgame, kept us in there. I didn’t want to aggravate anything or whatever. But he’s been very consistent, with the injury and everything else, going out there and giving us a bunch of innings.
“Once he gets loose, I think he’s pretty good. Sometimes, in the hotter weather, being down in the runway, it’ll stiffen up. Occasionally he’d throw and get a little stinger. But he’s awfully good, even when he’s not 100 percent. He’s got outstanding stuff.”
That was a common feeling on this night, as Zimmermann turned in another strong performance to end his stellar first half of the season 12-4 with a 2.58 ERA.
His fourth loss — and just the Nationals’ fourth in any game he’s started this season — also came largely because he was almost entirely unsupported by his offense, which scored once. It was the 24th time this season the Nationals have been held to one run or fewer. They are 1-23 in those games.
If the selection to the All-Star team wasn’t enough for to finally start paying attention to Zimmermann, Frandsen was effusive in his praise of the Nationals’ right-hander.
“Jordan is one hell of a pitcher,” said Frandsen, the Phillies’ hero on this night. “Everyone talks about (Matt Harvey) starting the All-Star Game, but that guy has made himself one hell of a resume all year. The last couple years.”
All signs do point to Harvey starting the game, and unfortunately for Zimmermann there is now question about whether he will be able to participate in it at all.
“It’s just (based on) how it feels,” he said. “(I’ll) just keep getting massages and hopefully it works its way out. We’re not really sure what it is, but we’re working to figure out what it is and go from there.”