30 Players in 30 Days: Jordan Zimmermann
There is a good chance Jordan Zimmermann will never lose a staring contest–he might not even have a pulse. His cold, stagnant stare is always the last face to show excitement or defeat in anything he does.
For better or worse, Zimmermann’s poker face remains as constant as Boise State winning football games. If he gives up a home run… it isn’t the end of the world. If he wins a game… nice, but there is another game to focus on. You won’t see him pump his fist after a strikeout to end an inning or see him punch his glove in disgust after giving up a home run. The 11 screws and two metal plates in his face–a ball struck him and broke his jaw in two places in college–remain motionless with the rest of his muscles no matter what the outcome is.
“You just have to stay even keel,” Zimmermann said. “You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low. So that’s what I try to do.”
Not too high, not too low. It is a skill he learned from his humble upbringing in the farm fields, fishing boats and deer stands across central Wisconsin. He grew up in Auburndale, Wis., a town with 738 residents, a railroad track and Main Street. It is tough to know if you are leaving, entering or in the middle of nowhere when you drive down Main St.–you might be doing all three at the same time–but there is no doubt the town molded Zimmermann into the man he is today. And yes, the local high school has an annual “Bring Your Tractor to School Day.” He didn’t come out of nowhere–even if you are thinking only in nowhere can you drive a tractor to school–but it may be right next to it. He played collegiate baseball at UW-Stevens Point, a small D-III school nestled in the pristine Wisconsin hills.
Not too high, not to low. That’s how he handled the news when he needed ligament-replacement surgery last year. He missed the entire second half of the 2009 season and didn’t make his 2010 debut until August 26. He had been knocked out before, but this time was different. He knew his jaw would heal but would his arm fully recover?
“When the arm is healing,” Zimmermann said, “you don’t know if you’re ever going to be the same.”
After seven starts, he seems to have returned to the Zimmermann of old. In his second start, he pitched six scoreless innings of one-hit ball with nine strikeouts against the Marlins. They weren’t all masterpieces; he allowed five runs in three of the seven starts. But it was a few bad pitchers here, a few home runs there and all of a sudden there were five runs on the scoreboard. It was apparent he was getting more comfortable as his arm got stronger and he was nearly perfect in his last two starts. He recorded his first win since June 25, 2009, struck out eight, and allowed just two runs–both solo shots–in 11 innings of work. It is safe to say: he’s back.
He is back and it never seems too early to envision Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg as the Nationals’ two-headed pitching monster in 2012.
It is exciting thinking about him pitching in 2011 and if you want to see Zimmermann really excited just put him in a fishing boat. But the truth is he loves baseball more than anything, even if you can’t tell by his straight face and monotone voice after a quality pitching performance. He loves it. Just ask him about his town back home, his college, his family or former baseball team and how they all rally around him every single start.
You will see the smile.