The Future Continues Tonight

Jordan Zimmermann hasn’t been pitching well (6.35 ERA), although his peripherals suggest that he has good stuff (K/BB: 2.91/1). But he’s up to take his lumps, figure out how to pitch to major league hitters (and pitch well in the first inning), and get himself ready to be a factor next year. Shairon Martis is pitching well, is somehow 5-0 on this team, and has shown that he is further along in development, even if Zimmermann’s got the higher ceiling. Strasburg isn’t on the team yet. In terms of young pitchers who may be part of the rotation in the future, one big name remains: Ross Detwiler.

Detwiler had a rough season in 2008, at least in the first half. He had lost some speed off his fastball, and looked a bit lost. But he recovered in the second half, and pitched well. This season, despite going 0-3, he has pitched quite well in AA. His ERA is 2.98, he’s pitched 27 1/3 innings and struck out 28. He’s walked 10 and given up 28 hits. Not bad, although it doesn’t yet indicate that he’s ready for the major leagues. But with Olsen going to the DL, and the general pitching staff woes, why not take a chance? He’ll get his chance tonight, as he’s starting at home against Pittsburgh at 7:05. I’ve said it quite a few times – if Detwiler can succeed at the major league level, the way that people thought he could do when he was drafted (#6 overall pick, and not many people thinking the Nats were making a bad choice), then that goes a long way to showing what this team could do as soon as next year. The rotation of Martis, Zimmermann and Strasburg looks downright good if you throw a strong Detwiler in the mix.

Zimmermann’s First Inning

As mentioned today in the Nationals Journal, Jordan Zimmerman is experiencing problems in the first inning of games:

“But take a look at the splits. Zimmermann is a different pitcher after the first inning.

FIRST INNING — 6 IP, 13 ER, 19.50 ERA
INNINGS TWO THROUGH NINE — 28 IP, 11 ER, 3.54 ERA

Here’s the breakdown of his first-inning troubles, start-by-start:

April 20 (ATL) — 0 runs, 0 hits
April 26 (NYM) — 1 run, 1 hit
May 1 (STL) — 1 run, 2 hits
May 7 (LA) — 6 runs, 4 hits
May 12 (SF) — 2 runs, 1 hit
May 17 (PHI) — 3 runs, 4 hits”

That pretty much tells you that he hasn’t been starting off well, especially recently. Getting out of the first inning without being behind is important. And it’s not at all rare that a young pitcher might struggle coming out of the gate. Whether it’s nerves, overthrowing, or something else, it might take a bit for the pitcher to get in a groove. Another young pitcher, one with even a higher potential than Zimmermann, has recently been going through the same thing. According to the Star_Ledger:

When it came to Joba Chamberlain’s first-inning woes, the numbers themselves weren’t the biggest worry. Sure, Chamberlain would love to forget the seven first-inning runs he allowed in his previuous two starts leading up to Saturday. The more pressing issue, however, was a bizarre dropoff in velocity, which seemed unique to just the first inning.

Chamberlain’s fastball typically lives in the mid-90s. But in his two previous starts, the pitcher’s first-inning heat has fizzled to as low as the high-80s, even though his fastball would pick up steam as the games would go along.

The Yankees wanted a fix for their young starter – you know, the guy with the second-best ERA of all 6 of their starters this year? In Saturday’s game, they tried something out:

Chamberlain went through his typical pregame warm-up then sat down for a few minutes. When he resumed throwing, it was with bullpen coach Mike Harkey standing at the plate (without a bat). As he tried to trick his mind into thinking he was already in the game, Chamberlain threw 12 to 15 more pitches with Harkey in the box during a simulated first inning.

“I threw a no-hitter in the bullpen,” Chamberlain said.

By the time Chamberlain was finished in the bullpen, he jogged to the dugout, used the restroom and grabbed a cup of water. He didn’t even have a chance to sit on the bench before it was time to jog to the mound to start the game.

And did it work? Well, he gave up only 2 ERs in 6 innings, struck out 7 – including 2 Ks in the first inning. He was also hitting 93 and 94 on the gun in the first inning. This time, it seemed to work. Of course, this is only one time, who knows if he’ll keep it up. And the routine may not be as easy on the road, when he can’t determine when he gets to start, since the Yankees will bat first. But it seems like something JZimm could emulate. At least test it out, and see if some of these first inning woes will go away.

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