He isn’t the most acclaimed starter in his team’s rotation. That claim belongs to fireballing phenom Stephen Strasburg. On paper, he is the No. 3 starter behind Strasburg and left-hander Gio Gonzalez. Yet the 26-year-old right-hander is in the midst of a breakout season that has him in serious contention for the NL Cy Young Award.
A second round pick out of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2007, Zimmermann has a 2.35 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and a .238 batting average against. In 145.1 innings, he has walked just 25 and permitted 129 hits.
So far in 2012, Zimmermann has posted 14 starts this season in which he surrendered no more than one earned run. His ERA is second in the NL behind San Francisco’s Ryan Vogelsong (2.27) and third in the majors. Angels’ right-hander Jered Weaver is first at 2.13.
Zimmermann recorded seven consecutive starts that saw him allow no more than one unearned run until he was knocked around for five runs (four earned) and seven hits over five innings in a no-decision against Miami on August 4. He rebounded on Thursday night by limiting Houston to no runs and three hits with 11 strikeouts and no walks in six innings, earning a much-needed win to pad his overall season total in that category.
Historically, Cy Young Award winners have either eclipsed or neared 20 wins, but Seattle’s Felix Hernandez was rewarded with the AL Cy Young in 2010 though his record was 13-12. Voters took his team’s lack of success and run support into consideration. In Zimmermann’s case, is he on a club that will likely earn its first post-season berth since moving from Montreal. Entering Friday night’s game, the Nationals were 69-43 and owned a 4.5 game lead over Atlanta in the National League East.
Zimmermann is three years removed from Tommy John surgery. Diagnosed with a torn elbow ligament in July 2009 (when he was 3-5 with a 4.63 ERA in 16 starts), Zimmermann returned in the second half of the 2010 campaign, posting a 1-2 record and a 4.94 ERA in seven starts. In 2011, he was 8-11 with a 3.18 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP and was shut down in late August by the Nationals, who capped his innings at 161.1.
This season, the Nationals insist they are going to do the same with Strasburg, who is in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. With the Nationals in the hunt for not only a playoff spot, but a World Series title, some fans question the team’s intentions. Zimmermann’s performance, though, could ease the loss of Strasburg if he is indeed shut down.
Though Strasburg’s unavailability would take a premium arm out of the Nationals rotation, it could bolster Zimmermann’s chances of capturing the Cy Young Award. Sometimes, voters consider categories other than wins, and a strong finish to the season highlighted by leading a rotation without Strasburg would seemingly enhance Zimmermann in the eyes of those voters.