Last night, the Washington Nationals‘ best pitcher Jordan Zimmermann won his NL-best 19th game of the season. It was an 8-0, two-hit complete game masterpiece to beat the Miami Marlins. Zimmermann has been one the best pitchers in MLB over the past two years, and has clearly been the ace of the Washington pitching staff for the past two seasons.
Sitting in the dugout watching each and everyone of Zimmermann’s games is his teammate Stephen Strasburg, complete with a small note pad and a pencil. It is time for the extraordinarily talented pupil to learn from the lesser known master.
Strasburg is wise to follow the path that Zimmermann has taken to become one of the elite pitchers in baseball today. If Strasburg ever wants to truly wants to become the ace of the Washington staff, then watching what J-Zimm has already done is a very good start.
After being shut down in 2011 under the exact same innings limit that Strasburg went through in 2012, Zimmermann knew what he needed to do to get started for the 2012 season. He credits the Nationals medical staff and management for setting him up to succeed after his Tommy John surgery — the exact same surgery that Strasburg went through a year after Zimmermann.
In 2012, Zimmermann was strong and he was able to push himself to go deeper into ball games. He was 12-8 last season with an impressive 2.94 ERA, and his record should have been much better. When Zimmermann took the mound in 2012, the Nationals averaged scoring just a little over 2.3 runs per game. Add to the bullpen having four blown saves, and you are looking at an 18-game winner.
He stayed calm and did not let the lack of runs or the occasional error made by the defense behind him keep him from pounding the strike zone.
Strasburg has a problem with an error extending an inning, and has at times been visibly rattled. To his credit, he has improved this as the season has progressed. Over the past 10 starts, he has done a very good job of getting out of jams that his teammates have gotten him into, but he still needs to learn to relax on the mound.
However, the single biggest thing that Strasburg will learn from Zimmerman is the economy of pitching. You do not have to strike everyone out to be a star pitcher. Zimmermann simply pounds the strike zone and locates his pitches, making sure that if you do hit his pitch, it will go to one of the men in the field behind him wearing a Nationals jersey.
He knows that getting through an inning using 9-11 pitches will mean you can go deep into games and yes, throw complete games.
Make no mistake about it, Strasburg is an outstanding student of the game and he is getting a Masters degree in pitching in the big leagues by watching Zimmermann take the mound. The 2014 version of Strasburg will be better because of the teachings of the 2013 version of Zimmermann.
As for J-Zimm in 2014, there is indeed no telling how good that he could be.
Related: My colleague Brian Skinnell has penned a very good story making a case for Zimmerman to be the 2013 National League Cy Young Award winner.