- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2009

It looks like Jordan Zimmermann’s recovery time from a yet-to-be-determined elbow injury is going to extend much longer than the Washington Nationals originally hoped.

An MRI taken on the rookie right-hander’s arm showed “some concerning facts,” acting general manager Mike Rizzo said, so those images have been sent to noted orthopedist James Andrews for further examination. The club won’t receive a concrete diagnosis from Andrews until at least Monday.

Best case, Zimmermann’s elbow is structurally sound and he’ll be able to return to the rotation after a brief period of rest. Worst case, it’s damaged enough to require surgery that would prematurely end this season and perhaps cut into next season.

Rizzo wouldn’t speculate on the exact nature or severity of the injury until Andrews gives his diagnosis. But asked if his level of concern remains the same now as it was a week ago, he replied: “No, it’s ramped up since the last week.”

Zimmermann, who entered the season as the organization’s top-rated prospect, was originally expected to miss just a couple of weeks after being placed on the 15-day disabled list July 19. He pitched 3 1/3 innings in a rehab start Tuesday for Class A Potomac but has experienced elbow “discomfort” since then, so the Nationals scrapped plans to have him back on the mound this week.

“I mean, I’m concerned,” the 23-year-old said. “But nothing that I’m moping around about. … It’s not really pain. It’s just discomfort. It’s not normal right now. Giving it some rest - more rest, I guess - might help. We’ll see.”

Zimmermann was 3-5 with a 4.63 ERA in 16 starts before succumbing to the injury, but he posted a 3.18 ERA in his final eight appearances. Team officials planned all along to limit him to about 150 innings in his rookie season. It now appears unlikely he’ll approach that limit.

“I’d like to finish this season out, but if they want to rest me the rest of the season and then come back next year strong, it’s up to them guys - the front office - to figure that out,” he said. “That’s their call.”

MacDougal’s unconventional approach

Mike MacDougal has been as responsible as anyone for the resurgence of Washington’s bullpen. The new closer, though, has done it in unusual fashion.

The 32-year-old right-hander owns a blazing fastball that regularly reaches 97 mph. And that’s the only pitch he’s throwing right now. Though he has a slider in his repertoire, MacDougal has come to rely exclusively on his fastball, which has natural sinking movement and has been effective enough to retire opposing hitters on its own.

During his 1 2/3-inning save Friday night against Arizona, he threw 31 pitches. All 31 of them were fastballs.

“It seems to be working, so I’m going to stay with it,” said MacDougal, who said he used to throw about 50 percent fastballs and 50 percent sliders. “[Pitching coach Steve McCatty] and I have been talking. If they keep hitting ground balls, why not?”

That’s the other strange aspect of MacDougal’s success. Despite his dominant pitch, he has recorded only 13 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings. This from a reliever who prior to this season struck out 8.1 batters per nine innings as a big leaguer.

“He doesn’t need to strike people out,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “The ground ball, for him, is gonna be a bigger weapon than the strikeout.”

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