In 2012 Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann held a 2.94 ERA, tenth best in the majors, through 195 2/3 innings pitched. He took the victory in just 12 of his 32 starts.
In 2013 Zimmermann has a 2.46 ERA, good for ninth in the majors, and has 12 wins already in just 17 outings. He’s matched his career high and it’s only July 1st.
If it were simply run support, perhaps it would make a lot of sense. But during games Zimmermann pitched last season, the Nationals gave him an average of 4.91 runs per game. This year he’s only seeing 4.71 scores come across.
Whatever the reason for Zimmermann’s now NL-leading win total, whether it’s more timely hitting or what, the 27-year-old isn’t complaining. If you ask him, he feels like he’s getting more help than ever. Maybe it’s because seven of his last ten starts have seen the Nats score at least five.
“They’re giving me great run support, that’s all I can say,” Zimmermann said. “In years past I wasn’t getting that, but this year is a whole different story. It’s definitely fun going out there when you know they’re going to give you four to eight runs a game. It’s nice.”
Zimmermann does have a point with the “year’s past” part. In 2011, his first full season in the majors after having Tommy John surgery, Zimmermann saw the sixth worst run support in the majors at 3.31. Even his 3.18 ERA that season couldn’t offset that number as he went 8-11 in 26 starts.
In the Nationals’ 10-5 win against the Brewers on Monday night, Zimmermann was supported by his teammates early in the game. He took the mound in the top of the fifth inning with an eight-run lead.
But, to continue a bizarre trend, Zimmermann nearly gave up the lead his teammates had built. Two innings later he had surrendered four earned runs and made the game more interesting than it needed to be.
Zimmermann has, in fact, allowed more than three runs only three times this season. And in each of those starts he’s had at least a four-run lead at some point.
On June 15 in Cleveland Zimmermann was up 5-0 before giving up six earned runs in an eventual Nats’ win. On May 29 in Baltimore the Nats were up 6-2 before Zimmermann gave up seven earned and took the loss.
You can even trace it back to last season. On September 1 against the Cardinals, the last time in 2012 Zimmermann gave up more than three runs, he allowed eight total after beginning the day with a 6-2 lead.
It is an interesting statistic no doubt, and Zimmermann thinks he knows why it keeps happening.
“You get eight runs like that and you’re just pitching to the score,” he said. “I’m throwing fastballs and trying to get quick outs and trying not to fall behind anyone.”
“They obviously knew I was going to throw the fastball and I wasn’t going to mess around. They were ready for it.”
Zimmermann had a nice day at the plate with career-high three hits - including a double - and two runs to help his quest for another win. It was the seventh time in his career he’s had a multi-hit game.
The offensive output may have, however, also hurt his cause as it forced Zimmermann to expend energy on the bases.
“I thought I did pretty well in the beginning innings, then I got a few hits and had to run around the bases a little bit and it took a little bit out of me,” he said.
“It was definitely hot and humid out there and I was pretty tired after the double and then I had to run to third right away.”
Manager Davey Johnson agreed with that idea.
“It didn’t help he got a couple of basehits and had to run the bases hard,” Johnson said. “But a good win, a nice win for him.”
Zimmermann wasn’t entirely happy with his outing after giving up four earned on nine hits, including two home runs, but getting the victory was all he cared about. Afterwards he was asked if his day was better on the mound or at the plate.
“Probably at the plate. I pitched alright, but definitely three hits is awesome.”