Washington Nationals Spring Training Diary Day 3: Walk and Talk Jordan Zimmerman

Alan ZlotorzynskiCorrespondent IIIFebruary 20, 2011

Jason Marquis gets serious in his session/ alan z photo
Jason Marquis gets serious in his session/ alan z photo

The realization began to sink in a bit today that while spring training is a glorious time of year, it is monotonous, and with just pitchers and catchers cycling through the drills, it is very basic right now, but nonetheless it beats anything else I can think of doing on a beautiful Saturday morning.

Buzz is starting to build as the Washington Nationals' No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Bryce Harper, gets set to arrive in the next few days. Harper made his way down to Viera a few days ago but left to watch his brother pitch for the Gamecocks in South Carolina.

All position players officially report today, but just about everyone is already here.

Yours truly will be on hand to get all the great photos and stories associated with the 18-year-old phenom’s arrival.

Today was another glorious day in Viera as many coaches and players could be overheard discussing tee times. Stephen Strasburg did not throw with the rest of his team and instead opted to throw on the field at Space Coast Stadium earlier this morning.

Bullpen sessions were in full swing today as all of the Nats potential starting rotation threw for the customary 15 to 20 minutes. I had a front row seat to Jordan Zimmerman, Jason Marquis, Livan Hernandez and Chien-Ming Wang.

The best news from the bullpen session was the session of Taiwanese right-hander Chien-Ming Wang. I spoke with Wang briefly on his walk back to Space Coast Stadium. I asked him if felt any pain or discomfort and he replied, “I feel good, no pain, loose.” He said it was “a big difference from other day (Thursday).”

Nats Manager Jim Riggleman and pitching Coach Steve McCatty watched him very closely following a not-so-great session for Wang on Thursday.

Livan Hernandez, barring any setbacks has been named the opening day starter. Today he threw with velocity and kept the ball down, showing good control.

Zimmerman and Marquis also threw well.

Marquis looked stiff to begin the session, but was able to loosen enough to get some pop on a few pitches at the end. Besides my usual walk and talk session today, I was able to get a question in with Nats Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, Mike Rizzo, as he rode around the facilities in his golf cart.

I asked Mr. Rizzo besides the Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche signing what he was most excited about with this year’s team.

Rizzo replied, “I really like the bullpen power we have headed into the season. There are a lot of real power arms out there who bring a lot of real good stuff to the mound. We have a lot of guys coming back either from injury or a tough year in the rotation, so it’s important to have power coming in and I believe we have that this season.”

If you read between the lines, unless guys like Marquis, Zimmermann, John Lannan and Yunesky Maya all rebound, these young power arms will be counted on early and often.

Marquis had a tough season last year with injuries. The Nats will look to him to return to the form that made him the innings workhorse he was in St. Louis and Colorado

Hernandez had his best season since 2005 last year and though he will probably be an innings eater again this season, he will be 36 years old on Monday.

Rizzo also mentioned how important it was to sign players who were leaders but knew what their roles would be and accept them in Washington. He wanted to add them to the mix of the ball club which he likes heading into camp.

Rizzo said, “I didn’t want to sign any swing-and-miss players, I wanted to bring in guys that had a good work ethic and would accept their roles, guys like a Jerry Hairston, Jr. and (Alex) Cora.”

When asked if the Nationals would head north with a closer by committee situation, Rizzo replied, ”No, we will have a closer.” Bullpen coach Jim Lett was not so sure when asked the same question while shagging flies during batting practice. “I don’t know, we will have to see how this thing shakes out.”

Walk and Talk Three Two: Jordan Zimmermann

Today’s walk and talk is with Nats starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann was the Nationals second-round selection in the 2007 draft. In 2009, Zimmermann made the Nationals' roster as the fifth starter, but the Nationals did not need him in the rotation until mid-April, so Zimmermann opened the season with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs.

He got the call to come back and made his major league debut on April 20, 2009, against the Atlanta Braves. After a two-plus hour rain delay, he pitched six innings, allowing two runs on six hits, with three strikeouts and a walk, earning the victory.

Zimmermann is the answer or involved in the question on two Randy Johnson trivia questions. Who are the only two Nats/Montreal Expos pitchers to win their first two major league starts? Second question is, who was the losing pitcher the night Randy Johnson won career milestone game number 300?

Answer No. 1 is Zimmermann and Johnson as Zimm won his second career start against the Mets and, of course, Zimm was the losing pitcher in Johnson's 300th win.

In August 2009, Zimmermann was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery, expecting to miss 18 months. In 2010, he made quick progress. Over four minor league levels, he started 10 games in limited play, racking up just 39.2 innings, but compiling a solid record: 1.59 ERA, 27 hits allowed, 31 strikeouts, and just six walks.

On Aug. 26 he was recalled to make his 2010 debut back in the big leagues, where Zimmermann got a no-decision in an eventual win by the Nationals over the Cardinals. In Zimmerman's second return start, he pitched six shutout innings, allowing only one hit, no walks, and striking out nine, a personal best. He also became the first National to get through six innings facing only 18 batters.

The first question I wanted to know from him was how was he able to stay positive when he learned he needed the surgery.

Zimmermann said, “I never really got frustrated, it’s an injury that takes about 12-to-18 months and all I did was set my sights on the 12-month part and decided I was going to make it back by then.” “It was a long process but I knew what I was capable of and if I just worked really hard and knew I would be back in 12 months and be OK,”  Zimmermann said.

I asked him if he would be on a pitch count this season or an innings count he replied, “I know that there is one, but for whatever reason they have not told me what it is. I just want to go out and pitch six, seven, or even eight innings, turn the ball over and hope for a W (win).”

When I asked him about his offseason this year and how he approached it having had the surgery he said, "I threw about four or five days a week, working really hard. I came down here (spring training) early. I was here by February 4th. I wanted to get started early, I was anxious and I also wanted to get out of the cold in Wisconsin.”

Zimmermann is from Auburndale, Wis., where the temperature is supposed to be 28 degrees with the threat of a winter storm tomorrow

I asked Zimmerman what veterans like Marquis and Hernandez have taught him about pitching in the major leagues he answered, “The way those guys prepare, and how they approach each hitter would be something I have definitely learned. Those guys lead by example in their preparation day in and day out.”

Lastly, I asked how much of a distraction he thought Harper’s arrival could be on Tuesday. “I don’t think it will be much of a distraction at all. We are kind of used to it with the arrival of Stephen (Strasburg) last year, we went through it but it wasn’t bad at all, it will be good to get some national exposure again before the season starts."

I also had a walk and talk with Derrik Norris. Norris was listed as the No. 2 prospect in the organization in December and I will feature that on another day.