WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jordan Zimmermann sits quietly by himself in the Washington Nationals clubhouse while team mates Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez are holding court for dozens of reporters.
Strasburg gets inundated with questions about his impending shutdown. Gonzalez is asked if he is surprised that the once-downtrodden Nationals have baseball’s best record.
Television reporters look for the right angle as they pirouette with writers. Tape recorders are three inches from the players’ faces. It is a three-ring circus without the animals.
Zimmermann smiles. Avoiding the spotlight comes naturally for the soft-spoken, four-year major league veteran.
“I’d rather have the media go to those two while I sit back in the weeds,” he said. “I‘m from Wisconsin. It’s the way I was brought up. Go about your business, shut up and do your job.”
And he has been doing his job superbly, at least as well as fellow pitchers Strasburg and Gonzalez, who were selected for the July All-Star game in Kansas City while Zimmermann sat home.
Zimmermann’s 2.54 earned run average is second lowest in the National League but he is just 9-7 this season because Washington scores just 4.4 runs when he is on the mound.
While the media is infatuated with Strasburg, the flame-throwing strikeout sage, and Gonzalez, the fun-loving, loquacious left-hander with a ready smile, Zimmermann’s value is well-known to his team mates.
“Everyone talks about Stras and Gio, and rightfully so. Those two guys have been unbelievable,” said Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
”But Jordan’s been kind of the guy on every fifth day that goes out and is going to pitch six innings, he’s going to keep you in the game. He’s quiet.
“Just goes about his business, works hard. That’s why I think he’s a little bit under the radar. We haven’t given him much run support either. He could easily have 15 wins.”
The 26-year-old Zimmermann, a right-hander, has a four-seam fastball in the mid-90s and is able to keep hitters off-balance with a cunning slider.
Washington closer Tyler Clippard conceded that Strasburg and Gonzalez are “sexier, flashier guys” than Zimmermann.
”Stras was the number one overall (draft) pick, coming in throwing 100 miles an hour,“ he said. ”Gio is flamboyant, strikes a bunch of guys out.
”But Jordan just gets it done. He’s a Midwestern kid. Very low key and that’s the way he likes it. So that probably plays into why he’s a little more under the radar than the other two.
“But he’s a bulldog, man. He’s a super competitive guy on and off the field. Whatever he’s doing he’s going to compete his butt off. And that’s what makes him so good.”
Strasburg is 15-5 with a major league-leading 183 strikeouts, while Gonzalez is 16-6, the first-ever Nationals pitcher to win more than 15 games.
Clippard believes, however, it is Zimmermann, despite his modest record, that should be in the hunt for the Cy Young Award as the National League’s top pitcher.
”I’ve always been the kind of guy who thinks the win-loss record should be thrown out altogether,“ he said. ”You never really know what kind of run support you’re going to get.
”You could give up one run, throw eight (innings), and get a loss. That’s not indicative of what kind of year you’re having all the time.
“So he’s definitely a Cy Young candidate, 100 percent. He’s thrown better than a lot of people in the league, almost everyone.”
Zimmermann will likely get a higher profile next month when Strasburg, who had Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery two years ago, reaches the innings limit of 160-170 the club set for him and is shut down for the season.
With the playoffs on the horizon, the looming end of Strasburg’s season has created a firestorm of controversy in a city well-accustomed to bickering.
Last year Zimmermann was limited to just over 160 innings as he healed from the same surgery.
“It’s funny, there wasn’t anything said when we shut down Zimmermann,” lamented Nationals manager Davey Johnson.
Under the radar. That is just the way Jordan Zimmermann likes it.
Editing by Frank Pingue