In a rotation with Strasburg and Gio, Zimmermann may be Nationals ace

 Jordan Zimmermann is 5-1 and ranks fourth in the National League with a 1.64 ERA.(USATSI)
Jordan Zimmermann is 5-1 and ranks fourth in the National League with a 1.64 ERA. (USATSI)

In Sunday night's 3 to Watch, I suggested that neither the Tigers nor the Nationals would have their ace available for this week's two-game series in Washington.

Monday afternoon, a scout who has followed the Nationals told me why I was wrong.

"Jordan Zimmermann is the ace of their staff," the scout said.

The early-season numbers would certainly suggest that. Zimmermann is off to a 5-1 start, with a 1.64 ERA that ranks four in the National League. The numbers say Zimmermann has outpitched Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals' opening day starter, and Gio Gonzalez, the 21-game winner and Cy Young vote-getter.

But the scout's opinion was based on more than just numbers. He didn't say Zimmermann is pitching better. He said that Zimmermann is better.

"His stuff is so much better than Strasburg's," the scout said. "Strasburg's stuff has gone backwards. Zimmermann is throwing 95-96 [mph], with two different breaking balls that he throws for strikes. The hitters will tell you it's tough to pick up. And he's so free and easy."

As for Gonzalez, whose 4.97 ERA is three runs higher than it was at this time last year, the scout said hitters have adjusted to him.

"They're starting to do what American League hitters did, and get him into high pitch counts," the scout said.

Meanwhile, in Zimmermann's last two starts, against good-hitting lineups from the Reds and Braves, he has pitched 17 scoreless innings while allowing just three hits.

The Tigers won't see Strasburg or Gonzalez. They won't, however, miss the Nationals' ace.

He starts Tuesday night.

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