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Disappointing finish for best pitcher in Nats history

Sep 30, 2015, 11:23 PM EST

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ATLANTA — He didn’t arrive in D.C. with the hype that surrounded Stephen Strasburg. He doesn’t own a major award like Max Scherzer. He has never won 20 games like Gio Gonzalez. And he certainly didn’t display flair on and off the field like Livan Hernandez.

None of that mattered, though, with Jordan Zimmermann. Simply earning the designation of “Best Pitcher in Nationals History” was more than enough.

Someone else will try to take that title away from him in the years to come, and there won’t be anything he can do about that now. After a strong but ultimately losing performance Wednesday night during a 2-0 defeat to the Braves, Zimmermann likely saw his career with this franchise come to an end in uninspired fashion.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “We had high hopes this year and it didn’t really work out. But I made some great friends along the way. I’m going to miss these guys.”

Zimmermann, who officially becomes a free agent five days after the World Series, made a point to say several times he doesn’t know where he’ll land this winter and that the Nationals will have every opportunity to re-sign him. Anyone who has been following this matter over the last two years, though, knows that ship has long since sailed away.

The Nationals made their pitch to lock Zimmermann up to an extension each of the last two winters, but the two sides never came close on an agreement. The 29-year-old was determined to test free agency and see what kind of contract he could command; the Nats moved on, signing Scherzer earlier this year to a $210 million deal that all but guaranteed Zimmermann’s departure.

There was never any bad blood between parties, though, and during these final weeks there has been mutual admiration expressed between pitcher and organization.

“He’s not only a good teammate, but a friend of mine,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, who like Zimmermann made his debut with the Nationals in 2009. “I’m proud of him. We played together in Double-A, and I’ve watched his progression. We’ve seen him blossom into an unbelievable pitcher. He’s pretty darn good. And any team, whether it’s the Nationals or anybody else, will be lucky to have him.”

Zimmermann’s legacy is one of consistency. His rookie season was disrupted by a torn elbow ligament that stunned the entire organization, but once he returned from Tommy John surgery, he never spent another day on the disabled list.

From 2011-15, Zimmermann averaged a 13-8 record, 3.14 ERA, 31 starts, 194 1/3 innings, 157 strikeouts and only 36 walks.

“Consistency. Durable. Reliable. For a starting pitcher, that’s important,” manager Matt Williams said. “And he’s provided that for this organization for a long time. It’s always tough having Tommy John. He’s responded from that. He’s worked hard to become the pitcher he has become. I admire him for that, and respect him for the way he goes about it every fifth day.”

“When I first had Tommy John, I was a little shaken up about it,” Zimmermann said. “But after reading some stuff and seeing all the guys that went through it and came back, I knew I’d be fine. My goal was when I came back to start being this elite pitcher that’s going to eat up innings and go out every five days and grab the ball and give the team a chance to win. That’s what I’ve been doing the last few years.”

Zimmermann’s methodical pitching style and soft-spoken, rural Wisconsin personality, could make him come across as uninteresting at times. But he certainly had his highlight-reel moments along the way.

There was, most notably, his no-hitter on the final day of the 2014 regular season, best expressed by the isolated camera angle of the pitcher slumping his shoulders when he thought Miami’s Christian Yelich broke it up with two outs in the ninth, then raising his arms in triumph when Steven Souza Jr. made a spectacular catch in left field to save the day.

But there also was a surprise bullpen appearance in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS, with the Nationals’ season hanging in the balance and a fresh arm needed to pitch the seventh inning of a 1-run game. Zimmermann retired the side with an amped-up arsenal no one had ever seen from him before or since.

Those kind of dazzling performances sprinkled among his regular, consistent work, made Zimmermann one of the game’s best pitchers, even if his name wasn’t often included among those who garner far more attention.

“I think his numbers stand up with anybody’s,” Desmond said. “I think as far as the attention, that’s something he’s kinda chosen to take that route. I’m sure there’s certain opportunities where he could’ve gotten in front of a camera and did a commercial. But that’s not about him. He’s about going out there and handling his business and pitching. That’s what he wants to do, and he thrives. Whether he gets recognition or not is not going to change him. He’s gonna go out there and do his thing every time.”

The pitching-rich Nationals will find a way to replace Zimmermann in 2016 and beyond. They still have Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Joe Ross and Tanner Roark, with top prospect Lucas Giolito knocking on the door. But that doesn’t make his pending departure easier for his teammates to swallow.

“It’s pretty hard,” catcher Wilson Ramos said. “I want that guy on this team. I’ve got five years working with him, and we get really good communication and really good relationship. This is the business. You can be here one year and you can’t the next year. You have to keep it going. In this job, you know where you start, but not when you finish. It’s hard to see a guy leaving from your team.”

Never the sentimental type, Zimmermann admittedly took a few moments this week to soak in his surroundings. He knows he’ll be pitching somewhere in 2016, and he knows he’ll be paid handsomely to do it. But The Best Pitcher in Nationals History knows it won’t be the same as the place he has called home for seven years.

“I’ve been thinking about it the last couple days, actually,” he said. “I may not be around these guys any more next year. Some of these guys have been around seven years, and we’ve had a great time. We’ll see what the offseason brings.”

  1. senators5 - Oct 1, 2015 at 12:16 AM

    “Say it ain’t so, Shoeless Joe”…err Jordan. OK, Werth=$126 mil; Scherver$210 mil, Papalbon $11mil. and we let the most dependable, hardnosed player on the team walk? If that’s the case then it is a certainty in 3 yrs, #34 will be a Yankee. And the legend of the old Washington Senators will continue, I should know as an excited 12 yr, old I saw my first Senators’ game in 1952 at Griffith Stadium against the Yanks with Joe D. Yogi, and a kid from Oklahoma wearing #6 in RF. The list of sold Senators during their tenure here, original and expansion, was historic, one of the first being Early Wynn (HOF, Cleveland) and the last was the Senators’ version of Papalbon, Denny McClain, who made the sale of the team to Texas inevitable.

    • janebeard - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:00 AM

      I know! It’s pretty demoralizing. And I mean. for the fans. Imagine how it feels to be a player.

    • knoxvillenat - Oct 1, 2015 at 2:11 PM

      Didn’t the “kid from Oklahoma” wear number 7?

  2. 3on2out - Oct 1, 2015 at 1:27 AM

    Jordan was the Tommy John pioneer for the Nats. He was the first and the protocol developed for him was used successfully by Strasburg and now Giolito.

    He was taciturn to a fault. I recall no memorable quotes during his time here but I will always remember the bulldog he became. During his early years he could get distracted by bad luck and bad results. But he learned to ignore those sorts of set backs and refocus.
    in addition to the no-hitter and his relief appearance in the ’12 NLDS, I will always remember his start in game 2 of the ’14 NLDS.

    I remember those games in Milwaukee where it seemed half of his hometown came to see him pitch.

    I wish him well…I know I am supposed to say … in the American League. I can’t. I hope he stays in the NL and I still get to see him pitch…and if he beats the Nats on occasion that will be the price.

  3. Just. Dave - Oct 1, 2015 at 6:51 AM

    I think there is a chance that he stays. 5 years 125M gets it done for a pitcher in decline.

    • Danny - Oct 1, 2015 at 7:20 AM

      He’s gone

      • tcostant - Oct 1, 2015 at 9:27 AM

        He might get that $25M per year or even a little less, but likely for 6 or even 7 years, it only takes one team…

  4. rabbit433 - Oct 1, 2015 at 7:14 AM

    Bottom line is everything has to do with money. As absurd as salaries are. It’s all stupid.

  5. Scooter - Oct 1, 2015 at 7:53 AM

    Gonna miss that little dude.

  6. raleighnat - Oct 1, 2015 at 8:37 AM

    Fine guy and my kind of player. Kept his mouth shut and let his performance on the field do his talking. First class. Neat to see someone with quiet dignity and self-restraint in today’s blabber mouth culture. If the criticism of the Nats the past few years has been talking bigger than they’ve walked, then the critics weren’t talking about Zimmermann. Well done sir!

    • npb99 - Oct 1, 2015 at 9:49 AM

      Well said. He made the Nats look good on many occasions and never caused embarrassment. Not many in that club.

  7. Just. Dave - Oct 1, 2015 at 8:57 AM

    I would rather have Zimmermann for half the price of Sherzer and the stupid syrup stuff.

    Last years Roark and Storen than Papelbon.

    Team chemistry means so much and these big time guys from outside always screw up chemistry. Save the big money to fill in an obvious hole. Right now there is no one to fill in for Span. We need a lead off hitter, Turner is going back to the minors I bet.

    I hate seeing the players decline go to other teams, etc.

    • bowdenball - Oct 1, 2015 at 9:12 AM

      You think Scherzer screws up team chemistry? Everyone loves Scherzer. He’s constantly in conversations with the other pitchers. He’s often the first one greeting guys who’ve gotten a big hit or made a big defensive play when they return to the dugout. He’s played for winning ballclubs basically his entire career.

      Sorry, but that just makes absolutely no sense.

      • bowdenball - Oct 1, 2015 at 9:20 AM

        Also, good luck getting JZimm for half the price of Scherzer. I’m not sure you could get Wei-Yin Chen for half the price of Scherzer.

      • jd - Oct 1, 2015 at 9:30 AM

        Additionally, it’s not like the Nationals didn’t try to lock up Jordan. They made him an offer 2 years ago and again met with agents during the winter meetings last year. Jordan chose to bet on himself which is his prerogative and he may or may not gain from that decision. Nats fans love JZim because he is a career NAT, has done very well over the years and has pitched a couple of very memorable games. I think he’s great too he’s just not in the same class as the games elite pitchers, his numbers this year and in fact over his career are representative of a very solid no. 2 starter. Will someone pay him like a no. 1? maybe. I don’t think the Nats did anything wrong in their approach to him.

        I do feel that Strasburg has a better upside than JZim and he may well be on the cusp of entering the elite level group. I wouldn’t mind locking him up long term.

  8. tcostant - Oct 1, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    Ironicly they could have had Jzimm and Andwer Miller last offseason for less the $210M combined

    • bowdenball - Oct 1, 2015 at 9:31 AM

      And they would have finished under .500 this season and had a demonstrably worse rotation going into 2016.

      Look, we’re all mad about this season for a variety of very good reasons. But how exactly does that translate into regret over the Scherzer signing and the fact that JZimm is likely leaving as a result? Scherzer is clearly the superior pitcher. It’s not that close. He’s also the lesser injury risk, and despite being two years older Scherzer has yet to show any real signs of decline while JZimm’s K rate and fastball velocity and effectiveness dropped markedly this year.

      I love JZimm. He’s been the best pitcher in the history of the team. I wish the Nats could re-sign him. I’m mad that the fans didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to him last week. If he returns to Nationals Park in another jersey I’ll buy a ticket and give him a standing ovation. But that history and sentimentality doesn’t change the facts.

      • tcostant - Oct 1, 2015 at 9:45 AM

        Who is to say that Roark wouldn’t have pitched like 2014, if they left him as a starter. And we might now finish .500 this year. Miller would have helped – A LOT.

        Could have, should have – it just a game, you never know…

      • bowdenball - Oct 1, 2015 at 9:53 AM

        There’s pretty clear evidence that Roark wouldn’t have pitched like he did in 2014. First, there’s the way he did pitch when he got starts in 2015, and he got 11 of them. There’s also the fact that he was clearly lucky in 2014, his FIP was almost a full run worse than his ERA, mostly due to unsustainably low BABIP and strand rates. And there’s the non-nerd argument, which is that the Nats’ defense was far worse in 2015 than 2014. I assume we can all agree on that one.

        Could have, should have indeed. But unless I’m misinterpreting your post you seemed to be asserting that the Nats would clearly be better off if they’d spent the Scherzer money on a JZimm extension + Andrew Miller, and I think that’s wrong. Did I misinterpret that? If so I apologize, but that seemed to be what you were saying, and I strongly disagree.

      • tcostant - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:13 AM

        Yes you are correct, but it not just about this year. Miller would have helped the pen for FOUR YEARS. Zimmerermann would have got 5 or 6 extention, so he would have pitched at 34 or 35 in the last year of the contract. While Max Scherzer will pitch at 37 in the last year of the deal. It all matters, it is not just the vaccum of 2015.

      • bowdenball - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:56 AM

        I’d much rather have Scherzer over the next several years than ZImmermann, especially with the one year overlap even though it didn’t work out as we all wished (although he gave us a few of our all too rare high points this season). And sure, Miller would help going forward, but he’s also on the wrong side of 30 now and relievers are notoriously fickle. Here’s the top ten in saves from 2010:

        Brian Wilson
        Heath Bell
        Rafael Soriano
        Joakim Soria
        Matt Capps
        Neftali Feliz
        Francisco Cordero
        Carlos Marmol
        Billy Wagner
        Jonathan Papelbon

        How many of those guys would have given a team value on an Andrew Miller type four year deal signed after that 2010 season? Change it to the top ten in 2011 and you do a little better, but it’s still mostly flameouts like Valverde, Axford, Putz, etc.

  9. jd - Oct 1, 2015 at 9:48 AM

    Bowdenball,

    I,m interested in your opinion on this:

    Lot’s of posters have been saying that we need a manager with experience (Gardenhire, Black) I don’t necessarily agree. I think there are good candidates available from a different list. Smart, personable, and adoptable. To me managing a team is not brain surgery. You need:

    1) Good people skills.
    2) Ability to think logically.
    3) willingness to use readily available data.
    4) strength of conviction (If you arrived at a conclusion that a certain move is right don’t change your direction if it fails to work some of the time ).
    5) Be able to lead without being a tyrant.
    6) be media savvy.

    I don’t know all of the potential candidates but from my limited perspective I think people like Lovulo, Ausmus and DeRosa look pretty good

    • tcostant - Oct 1, 2015 at 9:52 AM

      I want an experience guy (Gardenhire or Baker), but would take a guy like Wally Backman, who has managed a lot of games in the minors. No more of these guys who have little or no manager experince on any level.

    • bowdenball - Oct 1, 2015 at 9:56 AM

      I don’t have much of an opinion about the next managerial candidate. I definitely like your list, but I don’t know enough about potential candidates to know how well they fit those criteria.

      I don’t know know that Ausmus fits that list based on what little I know if him, though. He certainly violated a few of them with his recent handling of Daniel Norris and his responses to the questions about it.

    • MicheleS - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:06 AM

      Can you add to the list the ability to manage a bullpen and strength of conviction is fine, but be flexible (he’s my closer, he’s my 8th inning guy, blah blah. Get the outs instead)

      • jd - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:50 AM

        Michele S,

        That goes with the ability to think logically and the willingness to use readily available data. As a perfect example MW on 2 occasions at least avoided having a lefty face Cespedes once by walking him to get to Duda (failed) and the other by bringing in Storen to face him (failed) despite the fact that Cespedes has strong reverse splits (he hits righties better than lefties).

        This is just one example of blindly going with generally accepted principals such as righty to righty and lefty to lefty without looking at a given players splits. The data is there to be used.

  10. npb99 - Oct 1, 2015 at 9:54 AM

    Looking at the bright side (not my usual inclination, so bear with me) at least the Nats have become a franchise that produces players good enough for other teams to be interested in signing. That’s better than what we had a few years ago…

    • senators5 - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:07 AM

      Agree, but do not want the Nats to become the Kansas City Royals of the 60′ 70’s and even into the 80’s as a feeder to the Yankees.

    • ArVAFan - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:09 AM

      Thank you from the silver lining department.

      Now, if we can just deal with the current mess so FA’s will still want to come here without upping their life insurance policies . . .

      On Roark, I think he’s a perfectly good #5 starter. Every team needs one, and he’s a team player at the right price. Could he repeat 2014? Sure–if we have great defense behind him and the baseball gods smile. If not, well, then back to “he’s a #5 starter, team player, at a team-friendly price.”

  11. langleyclub - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:29 AM

    There are a ton of teams with money that need starting pitching this off-season:

    – Yankees
    – Red Sox
    – Dodgers (Greinke is a FA)
    – Giants
    – Cubs
    – Royals (they have generated a lot of revenue over the last two years; they have room to grow payroll)
    – Brewers (would love to build around a local player; perhaps the only team that might receive the hometown discount)
    – Phillies
    – Jays
    – Braves

    Zimmerman will be the #3 FA pitcher target behind only Greinke and Price. Expect he will get a deal that equals or exceeds the Scherzer deal. No chance that the Nats are going to outbid the competition for Jordan Zimmerman. The depth in the Nats organization is starting pitching. Giolito will be up next year by the end/middle of May, and he is cheap. The Nats need to spend money on the bullpen, a catcher and possibly a left-handed bat that makes contact. FWIW, I’ve heard the Nats will go hard for Weiters, and it makes sense; he would help balance the lineup and he is defensive upgrade.

    Best guess is that Zimmerman will end up in either a) Boston; b) New York; c) Chicago or d) Milwaukee…

    • jd - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:46 AM

      langley,

      I think Zimmermann gets a very good contract. I don’t think it will be anywhere near the Scherzer contract. His strikeout rate is down, his walk rate is up, his XFIP in 2015 was higher than his career average.

      Again, he’s hard to bet against because he does normally give you a quality start. I think he gets 5 x 25 or thereabouts. I think the Dodgers will go hard after Price and/or Greinke and I am pretty sure the Red Sox won’t be shutout either. I don’t think the Braves will jump into the free agent market just yet, I don’t think the Phillies will either and I don’t think the Brewers will be in the game either.

      I think the Giants and the Yankees will be involved but I’m not sure JZim is a NY kind of guy. I think the Cubs starting pitching is a lot better than people thought, I’m not sure Epstein goes all out for a FA and the Jays and Royals are reasonable dark horses.

      So yes he will get the big bucks just not Scherzer money in my opinion.

      • langleyclub - Oct 1, 2015 at 10:52 AM

        You could be right about RZ’ payday, but it only takes one team to get crazy. Predicting pitching from year to year is so difficult, but Zimmerman is about as reliable as it gets. Agree that the bidding for Jordan Zimmerman will come down to whomever among the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers that does not sign Price or Greinke, but I think the Cubs will be in the mix. The Brewers will go hard for him, and I wouldn’t discount the Jays or Royals. Both those teams now have a taste of the sweetness of success, and they will spend money now.

  12. akiterp - Oct 1, 2015 at 2:33 PM

    on another note…. talking next year … what are the odds of Span for a couple/3 more years. They need 4 quality OFs and a left hand bat

    • Drew - Oct 1, 2015 at 2:48 PM

      I’ve always thought JZnn will be a Cubbie, Desmond will be a Met or Yankee.

      I’d be surprised if Span returned, but I’d love to see him back on a two-year deal.

      I think it’s unlikely given past deals, such as the Tribe giving Michael Bourn 4/48.

      Granted, Denard is 30 and he’s been hurt, but I think some club will give him a multi-year deal.

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