Phillies face a tough test in Nats' Jordan Zimmermann

Phillies face a tough test in Nats' Jordan Zimmermann
May 24, 2013, 9:45 am
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Jordan Zimmermann is 7-2 with a 1.62 ERA. (USA Today Images)

If the season ended on the morning of May 24, the Nationals' Jordan Zimmermann would be a top-three NL Cy Young finalist and maybe the award-winner himself.

Zimmermann is 7-2 with a 1.62 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP. He leads in wins, and is third in the other two categories. He also leads the NL with three complete games.

Zimmermann, who the Phillies face Friday night in Washington in the opener of their first series with the Nats (see Jim's story), is a lightning quick worker. He averages 3.38 pitches per plate appearance, which is second only to Bronson Arroyo, whose 3.37 P/PA mark has been lowered twice by the Phils.

One statistical oddity with Zimmermann this season is that he has just nine walks in 66 2/3 innings despite a below-average first-pitch strike rate of 59 percent. Perhaps he's missing intentionally on the first pitch since the league knows his goal is to pound the zone and get quick outs.

Zimmermann's brilliance dates back to April 2012. Only four times in his last 41 starts has he allowed more than three runs in a game.

The Phillies saw Zimmermann twice last season, both times at Citizens Bank Park. In the first game they put nine men on base but scored just one run in a 5-2 win.

The second game was in the midst of Zimmermann's one slump of the season. The Phillies scored three runs and chased him after five innings.

Zimmermann is a four-pitch pitcher: He throws a mid-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider, a mid-70s curve, and the occasional changeup. The fastball has been his best pitch every year.

Like most pitchers with sparkling ERAs, Zimmermann has done his best work with men in scoring position. With no outs or one out and a man in scoring position, Zimmermann has held opponents to 5 for 28. The opposition is 1 for 16 with a runner on third base.

The only time teams have somewhat gotten to Zimmermann has been his third time through the batting order. The first time through, Zimmermann has a .163 opponents' batting average. The second time, .176. Third time, it rises to .266.

But even still, if you look at his ERA by inning, it's remarkably consistent: 1.67 in the first three, 1.73 in the middle three and 1.32 in innings 7-9.

This will be quite a test for the Phillies, but it's the way they should want to open their first series with the Nationals. If the Phils can become the first team to get to Zimmermann in 2013, that could set the tone for the season series.

The Nationals (24-23), like the Phillies (23-24), haven't gotten off the ground yet. Taking two of three is important against any team, but a series win this weekend would be especially sweet since it would get the Phils back to .500 finally, would tie the two teams for second place and would mean they got to at least one of Zimmermann or Stephen Strasburg.

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