Jordan Zimmerman pitched one of the games of the year tonight, becoming the third hurler on his team to fan at-least 11 batters in the past five games. The Washington Nationals starter was sensational Sunday afternoon, tossing nine shut-out innings, allowing just two hits, and fanning 12 San Diego Padres batters en route to a 6-0 Nats win.
As we wrote prior to today’s game, the key for Zimmermann to succeed would be to replicate the same tactics that helped him twirl a eight-inning no-run outing in his previous start on against the Philadelphia Phillies earlier this week. Those tactics were to again throw his breaking balls for strikes, especially his slider, and command more pitcher’s counts. The results?
– Zimmermann threw 24 of 31 (77%) off speed pitches for strikes today. 16 of the 24 strikes were swinging strikes.
– He threw his slider for a strike 11 of 14 times, forcing nine whiffs.
– Zimmermann allowed just one three-ball count over the course of the entire game, putting him in position to make the pitches he wanted to make.
With this shutout, the 28-year-old appears to have regained the form that made him a 2013 National League All-Star. He has now pitched 18 consecutive scoreless innings, allowing just seven hits and one walk in that frame. In the course of just two starts, he has lowered his ERA from 4.02, to a line of 5-2 with a 3.17 ERA. It seems finally, the Nationals have both Z-Men back at full form.
Zimmermann isn’t the only Nats hurler that has found his groove of late. Comcast’s Mark Zuckerman pointed out today that only six teams in MLB history have had three pitchers combine for this feat over the course of an entire season. The Nats have had three hurlers (Zimmermann, Roark, and Strasburg) accomplish this feat in the past five days alone.
Washington’s pitching is coming around at the exact same time as its hitting, which represents a big reason why the club now boasts the second best run differential in the National League, and the fourth best in baseball (+38). This represents the best stretch the Nats have had so far in 2014. However, to be fair, their recent surge has come against non-competitive teams and out of league opponents. They are 7-2 in their past nine games against the San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, and the Texas Rangers.
The Nats will now face a very real test to see if their resurgence of late is a result of finally being healthy, or one of playing against below-average squads. Between tomorrow and June 25, their opponents will have a combined record of 173-143 in the San Francisco Giants (42-21), Atlanta Braves (32-29), St. Louis Cardinals (33-31), Milwaukee Brewers (38-26), and the Houston Astros (28-36).
With the win, and an Atlanta Braves loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Washington is 32-29 and for now tied for first in the National League East.