Detroit Tigers sidearm Nolan Blackwood meets Harold Castro in the intrasquad game on Sunday, July 1
Detroit Free Press
Jordan Zimmermann was frustrated by the mound after his first inning on Sunday afternoon.
It was a familiar scene: Zimmermann, the veteran right-hander, has made too many of these walks during his five seasons with Detroit Tigers.
Once a power pitcher who would throw consistently deep into the game, Zimmermann was bitten by the injury bug a month into the 2016 season – he was the American League Pitcher of the Month in April – and has often gone back to the dugout in the middle innings or earlier since.
Sometimes it is after being pulled. Second, after a rough inning.
But on Sunday, in his first intersquad appearance, Zimmermann went without recording three outs. In the first inning game, Zimmermann was hit hard. He did not miss bats and his pitch exceeded the team’s limit.
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“First inning, it didn’t come out much,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He didn’t have much control over his fastball and it happens. But he has been around for a long time, so these things happen and then he did a few places in the second inning out there and he did well after that. “
Now 34 and in the final season on a five-year assignment of $ 110 million – Zimmermann is due for just over $ 8 million in 2020, estimated – he is in place for his career.
With his contract essentially a cut cost and the team’s best pitch prospects on the cusp to debut sometime this season, Zimmermann needs to stay healthy and pitch effectively to hold on to the rotation.
And while staying healthy can be easier during a shortened season, that’s only half the battle: With every inning that has extra weight this season, especially with the team’s top prospects needing them to develop, Zimmermann needs to pitch capable.
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After the first inning full of hard contact and line drives, Zimmermann went around a foul in the second and pulled back six batters in a row to end his outing.
“He spun the ball a little better and threw the ball a little better after that,” Gardenhire said. “Spun it pretty well but he’s a veteran guy, we’ll see how he feels tomorrow and leave.”
Gardenhire said over the weekend that there were no physical problems with Zimmermann. The pitcher himself said he felt beyond that and didn’t have to get a nerve block injection during the off-season, unlike his recent seasons.
Given that his excursion contained the first intrasquad sites he threw this camp, Zimmermann can certainly afford some time. He enters his 12th season in the majors.
But given his performance with the Tigers – going 25-41 with a 5.61 ERA and 1,431 WHIP in 96 starts – Zimmermann doesn’t have much of it to turn things around.
Still, the Tigers have no rush to catch them. While the reinforcements are coming, Zimmermann can still make valuable plays this season. He has put together solid stretches when he is healthy.
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And already down a man in the starting rotation – left Daniel Norris is on the 10-day injured list while awaiting COVID-19 approval – another vacant spot could put the Tigers in an uncomfortable spot early, given the warning they plan to use their young pitchers.
“Let’s just go through these things, first,” Gardenhire said when asked about the starting rotation. “We have just started doing this, but yes, we are trying to look up a five-man rotation and no matter how best it goes, we try to let it play out on the pitch and make decisions closer to the start of the season.”
The Tigers open the season on July 24 against the Cincinnati Reds.
Excluding any damage to this camp, Zimmermann will be in the Tiger’s starting rotation then.
When his contract expires, how long he stays will depend on reversing a trend that has continued for the past five years, seen again at Comerica Park in an intrasquad game on Sunday.
Contact Anthony Fenech at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Read more about the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.