Before he made the All-Star team, threw a no-hitter and signed a free agent contract north of $100 million, Jordan Zimmermann was a well-kept secret for those who watched him take the mound every fifth day for the Washington Nationals. He was the quiet one, content with standing in the shadows of Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, never craving and thus rarely receiving the attention that was well-warranted for a player of his caliber.
For what seemed like a while, Zimmermann was one of the more underrated players in baseball. He took the ball when it was his turn and consistently pitched well. He took pride in that. He was not a well-known name by baseball fans across the country, and he cherished that. Zimmermann just wanted to do his job and very seldom wanted to talk about himself.
Now, after seven years, Zimmermann is moving on. The right-hander signed a five-year deal worth $110 million to join the Detroit Tigers. Instead of pitching alongside Strasburg and Gio, he will now be a rotation-mate of Justin Verlander. Two years ago Max Scherzer was in Detroit and Zimmermann was in Washington. Now, the two have traded places.
The Tigers are getting a pitcher who over the last five seasons has averaged 31 starts and a 3.14 ERA. He's one of the more reliable starters out there both in terms of results and durability. Since having Tommy John surgery in 2009, Zimmermann hasn't been on the disabled list and has occasionally pitched through injuries.
After seven years, Zimmermann leaves the Nationals having already provided many indelible memories. Of course, there was his no-hitter on the last day of the 2014 regular season, the first no-no in Nationals history. There was his relief appearance in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS when he hit 97 miles per hour on the radar gun five times while striking out the side.
There was also his brilliant performance in the 2014 NLDS in a game the Nats would end up losing in 18 innings. Zimmermann was one out away from a playoff shutout of the eventual world champions before getting pulled by Matt Williams.
Covering Zimmermann on the Nats beat for the last five seasons was a pleasure. He was soft spoken, but respectful and never hid from the media after his worst outings. It was sometimes his best days on the field that produced his shyest moments off of it.
Moments after walking off the field on Sept. 28, 2014 when he no-hit the Marlins, he saw a Nationals PR official who is also from Wisconsin. Zimmermann's first question was whether the Packers had won.
In his press conference that evening I asked him about also having two hits for himself on offense, whether it was "just one of those days." He replied with "obviously" and a wry smile, a rare instance he publicly showed his dry sense of humor.
Media day at the MLB All-Star Game brings out reporters from all walks of life, especially when the event is held in New York City. In 2013, when Zimmermann was reluctantly holding court at Citi Field and letting us know exactly how uncomfortable he was, a guy approached the table from the music TV station 'FUSE.' He wanted to know what players listen to before games to pump them up. The conversation went something like this:
FUSE guy: 'What's in your headphones before games?"
Zimmermann: 'I don't listen to headphones.'
FUSE guy: 'What do you listen to before games?'
Zimmermann: 'I don't know, whatever is on the speakers in the clubhouse.'
FUSE guy: 'What kind of music do you like?'
Zimmermann: 'I don't know, I like country I guess.'
A question or two later and the regulars of the Nats' beat corps were laughing. That FUSE reporter had picked the wrong guy and we all could have told him that.
Zimmermann may not go down as one of the most outward personalities the Nationals have ever had, but he is certainly one of the best players in team history. He is, most would argue, the best pitcher the team has had in Washington so far.
It was unfortunate the way his final season went with the Nationals not only missing out on the playoffs, but with how his last home start ended. He did not get an opportunity to acknowledge the crowd in a final farewell.
But with the Tigers set to play in D.C. in an interleague series in May, there could very soon be a chance for Nationals fans to say thanks. If he is healthy and his rotation spot lines up, he could return to face his former team in about six months.
One could expect a big applause when his name is called, and perhaps a standing ovation. He will likely take a moment to tip his cap, but then get right down to business as he did so many times in Washington.