By JAY LeBLANC
Less than two years after the Washington Nationals made him a second-round pick out of Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann is set to make his big league debut tonight - weather permitting - against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park. The 22-year-old earned a rotation spot by going 15-5 with a 2.74 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 205 K’s in 187 minor league innings at three levels over the past two seasons and posting a 3.14 ERA in spring training. He started the year with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs because the Nats’ schedule dictated that they didn’t need a fifth starter for the first two weeks of the season.
Zimmermann’s first big league start couldn’t come at a better time for the Nats, who have stumbled out of the gate to a Major League-worst 1-10 record in large part because of a 6.38 staff ERA - the second-worst mark in the National League. And while it’s unlikely he’ll get enough run support from a lineup that is currently tied for ninth in the Senior Circuit in runs to win a lot of games, his advanced approach makes him a good bet for success and even a sleeper Rookie of the Year candidate.
As we look forward to Zimmermann’s debut, let’s take a look back and see where his head was at last summer when he was mowing down hitters for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. I had a chance to speak with Zimmermann on July 23 when his Senators traveled to Bowie, Md., to take on the Baltimore Orioles-affiliated Bowie Baysox, and he provided some great insight on his background and his approach to pitching.
Q: You went from playing at a Division III program to being a second-round pick in the MLB draft. Would you consider yourself a late bloomer?
A: Yeah, I’d say I was a late bloomer. In high school I wasn’t throwing nearly as hard as I am now; I was probably throwing 86, 87. I just stayed close to home, went to a Division III school and started lifting weights, and I started throwing harder.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been drafted by the Nationals?
A: I was excited. My agent said it was a great team to get drafted by. The ballclub was struggling a little bit and they needed some pitching, and he said “This is a good fit for you.”
Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: I like to get ahead with my fastball. Late in the game I like to start guys out with the curveball and put them away with the slider. I’m developing a changeup right now; it needs a little work, but it’s coming around.
Q: What are some of the things you’re trying to work on this season?
A: Basically, the biggest thing is the changeup. I’ve got to throw it a lot more and get the feel for it. It’s a feel pitch, and that’s the biggest thing right now.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: Growing up in Milwaukee I really liked Ben Sheets. He’s had a lot of injuries the past couple years, but he’s one of the guys I really like to watch, and have a good time watching.
Q: Washington’s a National League franchise, so you’re going to have to step up to the plate. How are your hitting skills?
A: Well, I hit in college my sophomore and junior years and hit like .350 to .375. After taking a year off I’ve struggled a little bit, but I hit a double a couple games ago and I’m seeing the ball and drawing a lot of full counts. Hopefully it comes around sooner or later.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Nationals?
A: Whenever they want to give me the call I’m ready. I just need to get this changeup figured out, and I think I’m really ready to go.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to view the original Jordan Zimmermann Prospect Q&A