Zimmermann thinks he was named to the All-Star team this season mostly because he has more wins than any other pitcher in the National League. His ERA, he points out, was fairly similar at 2.61 at the All-Star break last season. He credits run support, but he’s also averaging seven innings per start and he’s thrown three complete games.
His improvement is obvious to those who have to deal with him most, particularly with this year’s incorporation of a change-up that he’s noticed has batters staring up at the stadium radar guns quizzically.
Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman just sighed when he was asked about facing Zimmermann.
“It’s not fun. At all,” Freeman said. “[It’s] much more difficult [now]. The first couple years, it was a lot of heaters and then this year it’s change-ups, back-door sliders. He’s learned how to pitch. I don’t know where that came from. I wish it never happened, but he’s been amazing.”
Learning the spotlight
At one point during the hourlong media session for the All-Stars on Monday, Zimmermann glanced over at the crowd around Bryce Harper. With reporters and cameras several rows deep around his teammate, Zimmermann’s contingent looked tame by comparison.
When the crowd thinned out for a minute, Zimmermann grabbed a towel and wiped his arms and face. He’d never answered so many questions in one sitting in his life. He rolled his eyes. “This is miserable,” he said, though he smiled.
To his right, Harper stared out at a still-growing group of reporters and unflinchingly continued to answer questions. To his left, manager Davey Johnson was regaling his own group of media with tales from his days with the Mets and the Orioles.
It may still take some time, and perhaps many more seasons like this one, before Zimmermann is better accustomed to handling the spotlight. It may still take some time for the spotlight to adjust to him, too. When Zimmermann was named to the All-Star team, MLB put out a T-shirt for sale with his number on it and the name “Zimmerman.” When the Nationals played the Mets two weeks ago, Citi Field put up his picture on the scoreboard when third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was batting.
“It used to be celebrated to be like Jordan,” Zimmerman said of his teammate’s no-flash style. “Now, it’s not because it’s boring and nobody wants boring. Everyone wants someone tweeting how good their stats are or taking a picture of themselves after a win. Nobody just wants the person who just does their job.
“[But] I don’t think he would change for anyone. That’s fine, too. I think he is who he is. He understands that now. Who he is is pretty good. There’s no need to change.”
Zimmermann won’t get to pitch Tuesday, a lingering neck issue leading he and the Nationals to err on the side of caution. But that hasn’t dulled the enjoyment of his All-Star selection any for him, or those around him.
“It’s nice to see somebody who isn’t flashy on the field, or try to show people up or take advantage of being good in this sport [get recognized],” LaRoche said. “I don’t think he acts like he’s above anybody, regardless of the last few years, climbing up and being one of the top pitchers in the game. It’s easy to respect that.”
Added McCatty: “Seeing how he’s progressed, being in the room with him on the ultimate low, when he tore his UCL, to what he’s come back and done? Yeah, I am extremely happy. It’s really cool. It really is. Just to see him learn what he does and how he’s applying it. There’s still room to grow, but he’s awfully damn good.”