After weeks of speculating whether Jordan Zimmermann or Anibal Sanchez would start the second game of the Detroit Tigers' season, we finally have our answer: neither. Manager Brad Ausmus announced on Wednesday that Mike Pelfrey would start the second (and final) game of the Tigers' series against the Miami Marlins, with Zimmermann likely getting the nod for the Tigers' home opener against the New York Yankees on Friday, April 8.
You want to have your best starters pitching as often as possible during the course of the season," Ausmus told reporters. "But for me, opening day for the Detroit Tigers is a special day. He's a guy I like in that atmosphere."
Zimmermann, signed to a five-year, $110 million contract during the offseason, will be leaned upon heavily by Ausmus and the coaching staff in 2016. Fans are already anticipating what he brings to the table, and putting his much-hyped debut on Opening Day in Detroit makes for a very special occasion. Separating him and ace Justin Verlander in the rotation is also a solid move, especially early in the season when younger starters are still rounding into game shape.
The announcement comes as somewhat of a surprise, though, especially given Zimmermann's familiarity with the Marlins and the National League. He is not a great hitter by any means, but there is something to be said for his 375 plate appearances since 2009. He also has 43 career sacrifice bunts to his name, as much as it pains the BYB commentariat to hear those words. Pelfrey, a former Mets product, has 11 plate appearances in the past four seasons.
However, this decision is about more than hitting. Zimmermann will face a much better offense in the Yankees, while Pelfrey, viewed by many as the team's de facto fifth starter, faces a Marlins team that scored just 613 runs in 2015, the second-lowest total in all of baseball.
We don't know how the rest of the rotation lines up yet -- Justin Verlander could start as early as Sunday, April 10 on full rest -- but odds are Anibal Sanchez slots into Saturday afternoon's game if he stays healthy this spring. The Tigers could also turn to Daniel Norris against the lefty-heavy Yankees if they want to delay Sanchez's debut further.