View Full Game Coverage
LOUIS -- A few thousand fans, Jordan Zimmermann estimates, showed up to watch him pitch for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the 2007 Division III College World Series. Short of that experience, Zimmermann, like so many of his Nationals teammates, owns precious little mound history in front of postseason crowds.
Forty-thousand strong, by comparison, will arrive at Busch Stadium to watch Zimmermann start Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals, which will air Monday at 4:30 p.m. ET on TBS. The Nationals lead the series, 1-0, after a 3-2 win in Game 1. But even with no remotely similar experience on which to draw -- nothing "that even comes close to the magnitude of this game," in his words -- Zimmermann swears he will not be fazed.
Loves to face: Allen Craig: 1-for-5. Hates to face: Yadier Molina: 5-for-11, 1 2B, 1 RBI.
Loves to face: Adam LaRoche: 1-for-8, 2 K's. Hates to face: Jayson Werth: 4-for-12, 1 HR, 2 RBIs.
Why he'll win: Zimmermann was sharp through six innings his last time vs. STL.
Why he'll win: Garcia has five postseason starts while Zimmermann has zero.
Pitcher beware: Zimmermann threw a career-high 195 2/3 innings this year.
Pitcher beware: Garcia posted the highest full-season ERA (3.92) and WHIP (1.364) of his career.
Bottom line: Zimmermann thrived this year without an innings limit.
Bottom line: Garcia's postseason experience should benefit him.
"I really never get nervous for any game," he said. "The only game I really got nervous for was my debut, and I don't see anything changing this time."
Perhaps Nationals fans can take heart, then, in knowing Zimmermann won that debut back in 2009, three years before developing into a truly productive, consistent, reliable member of Washington's staff. With a 2.94 ERA over a career-high 32 starts and 195 1/3 innings pitched this season, Zimmermann earned his Game 2 assignment on merit.
From Opening Day until mid-August, in particular, Zimmermann established himself as one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, more than pulling his weight in Washington's top-ranked NL rotation.
"But at the same time," Zimmermann's Game 2 counterpart, Jaime Garcia, said, "postseason is different."
Garcia knows. His strong 2011 regular season meant nothing when he stumbled early in his first October experience, which in turn meant nothing when he rebounded to pitch well in the World Series. Zimmermann will be looking to avoid a similar postseason introduction at Busch Stadium.
He will also be looking to prove that the right shoulder soreness that affected him early in August has completely dissipated. More than perhaps any Nationals pitcher, Zimmermann may have benefited from the nine days between his final regular-season start and his first playoff outing. Pitching deeper than six innings in a game just four times since June 27, Zimmermann said he threw an extended bullpen session recently to avoid any rust.
The Nationals are not overly concerned about the right-hander's health because, since an eight-run debacle at home early last month, he went 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA over his final five starts. The only issue is that the aforementioned eight-run outing came against the Cardinals, who knocked Zimmermann out in the fourth.
Matt Holliday and David Freese hit two-run home runs against him that day. Freese and Matt Carpenter smacked key doubles. And largely because of it, the 13 hitters on St. Louis' NLDS roster have combined for a .397 career average off Zimmermann, with nine extra-base hits in 73 at-bats.
Then again, the Cardinals do that to many pitchers, boasting the NL's second-ranked offense and the Majors' highest on-base percentage.
"It's going to be tough to shut them completely down," said Zimmermann, who gave up three runs in six innings when he faced St. Louis later in September. "They are going to get their runs, but you've just got to keep it to a minimum and try to get out of jams as best you can when you're in a tight spot. You're going to give up a home run here and there, but hopefully they are just solos."
And as for the tens of thousands of Busch Stadium fans, Zimmermann said he will "try to zone them out as best I can."
"Maybe I'll have a few butterflies when I first walk out there," he added, "but I'm sure they will go away quickly."