LOS ANGELES — Jordan Zimmermann made his way in from the visitors’ bullpen at Dodger Stadium shortly before 7 p.m. on Monday evening. A steamy Southern California day gave way to a beautiful night, and Zimmermann waited in the dugout for his chance to continue a run of dominance nearly unparalleled to open the season.
And he waited, and he waited, and he waited.
Zimmermann was superb again in the Nationals’ 6-2 victory over the Dodgers on Monday, the two earned runs he allowed over 7 2/3 innings actually raising his minuscule ERA. But when he stood in contrast to his counterpart it was an even stronger picture of what a force the Nationals’ right-hander has become.
Josh Beckett, a one-time ace, pitched three innings for the Dodgers. He gave up four runs, though only two of them were earned, and allowed six of the 15 batters he faced to reach base. He worked so brutally slow, that in the first inning he averaged just over one pitch per minute, throwing 25 of them in a 17-minute frame.
“I was just trying to get back to game speed,” joked Zimmermann, who was his usual quick-working, strike-throwing self when he took the mound. “Beckett was going so slow, I was trying to work as fast as I could to get back on pace.”
But Zimmermann’s pace is one of the main reasons he’s been such a joy for his teammates to play behind this season.
“He works quick and throws strikes,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who drove in three of the Nationals’ runs with a double off the right field wall in the third and a first-inning ground out.
“Every guy wants to work quick and throw strikes, but it doesn’t always work out that way. So far this year, Jordan gets the ball and goes and challenges the hitters. And when a pitcher’s doing that, it makes you want to do whatever you can to help him out. He’s been really fun to play behind this year.”
By the end of the night, Zimmermann’s ERA had to risen to 1.69, the sixth-best mark in the major leagues, and with the benefit of six runs off 10 hits, he’d earned a league-leading seventh win.
The list of starters with lower ERAs than the Nationals’ right-hander since the beginning of the 2012 season has two names on it: Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.
And the expectation now is that Zimmermann not only has the potential to belong in that class, but that he already is every time he takes the mound.
“I do (expect this),” said manager Davey Johnson, who considered letting Zimmermann try for the complete game when he began the eighth inning at just 83 pitches. “A heck of a ballgame. He’s been outstanding.”
Unlike in many of his starts this season, which have toggled between solid and downright dominant, Zimmermann appeared somewhat hittable for the Dodgers. They tagged him for nine of them. He allowed at least one hit in every inning he worked, except for the 1-2-3 second, and he allowed the leadoff man to reach six times.
But only once did that leadoff man score.
And it was something of an extenuating circumstance when Bryce Harper slammed into the right field scoreboard face first while trying to track down A.J. Ellis’ fly ball. As Harper writhed on the field in pain, Ellis cruised into third base. A ground-out to second base scored him.
Even when Dee Gordon singled to leadoff the fourth inning, stole second base and moved to third when Kurt Suzuki’s throw to second sailed into the outfield, Zimmermann left him standing there a he promptly set down Gordon’s next three teammates in order.
“When the guy was on third with no outs and he got out of it, it just shows you what kind of a pitcher he is,” Johnson said.
“I’ve always been confident,” Zimmermann said. “I feel ilke I haven’t changed anything from last year. It’s just the way the ball’s bouncing right now. I’m pitching to contact right now, throwing strikes and I feel like if I keep that up, I’ll have a lot more quality starts.”