Posted on September 26, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
The Detroit Tigers have missed starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann immensely during the second half of the season. Zimmermann’s tenure in Detroit got off to such a promising start early in the season, as he posted a 0.55 ERA in the month of April. But because of injuries he has made just two starts since the end of June. Those two starts did not go well, perhaps because Zimmermann wasn’t fully healthy. However, after pitching three effective innings out of the bullpen on Sunday, Zimmermann may be given a start during the final week of the season when the Tigers need him most.
Zimmermann went to the DL for the first time this season in early July due to a neck injury. He returned on August 4, but got lit up for six runs in 1.2 innings, and soon returned to the DL with lat tightness. He returned from that injury on September 10, but again allowed six runs and got knocked out in the 2nd inning. After that start, the Tigers were hesitant to give him another start; instead choosing to have Zimmermann pitch simulated games to help him regain the form he had early in the season.
He was scheduled to throw a simulated game on Monday, but ended up being put into Detroit’s game Sunday against the Kansas City Royals instead. The Tigers lost the game, but Zimmermann tossed three innings, allowing one run and striking out four. It was just the second relief appearance of his big league career, but it may have been enough to change Detroit’s thinking on how Zimmermann may be able to help them during the final week of the regular season, as the Tigers chase a wild card spot.
“It’s better than a sim game,” manager Brad Ausmus said about Zimmermann’s appearance on Sunday. “You can see how hitters are reacting to [his pitches]. We had talked to him a couple of days ago about being available out of the ‘pen if it was a lopsided game, getting him in there for a few innings and then we can see how hitters are reacting to his stuff.”
After taking a while to get warmed up in the bullpen, Zimmermann struck out the first two batters he faced. He would eventually allow a run in his third and final inning of work, but Zimmermann pitched far better than he did in his previous two starts, both of which were straight off of stints on the DL. His command was particularly impressive, with 35 of his 30 pitches being thrown for strikes, a sharp contrast to his past two outings.
“He looked real good,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamocchia. “Fastball was real sharp. Curveball was working real good. First time being on the mound in quite some time, so I think he may have got tired the last inning there, but it was still sharp”
Perhaps most importantly, it was an exercise in building confidence for Zimmermann. “If you asked me before today, it was probably as low as it could possibly be,” Zimmermann said about his level of confidence. “But after going out there and going through this lineup once, and punching some guys out, getting some weak contact, obviously it’s gone up quite a bit. It was a good outing for me and hopefully I can build on that.”
Ausmus has not said how he will be used the rest of the season, but Zimmermann appears to be campaigning to start Friday’s game against the Atlanta Braves, a team he faced many times while with the Washington Nationals. “I’ve been busting my tail the last couple months to try to get things figured out and it’s been a really tough, frustrating year for me,” Zimmermann said after Sunday’s game. “Today was a good day and a step in the right direction. Hopefully I can get the ball in five days. But we’ll see.”
As of Monday, the Tigers are technically alive in the AL Central, but would need to win all of their remaining games and have the Cleveland Indians lose all of their games to win the division. The two teams begin a four-game series against one another on Monday. However, the Tigers are just a game and a half behind the Baltimore Orioles for the second wild card spot. Whether Zimmermann could possibly play a role in helping the Tigers get to the postseason remains to be seen, but after Sunday’s outing, it’s at least possible.