Jordan Zimmermann hasn’t been himself since he missed a start for a Grade 1 right groin strain. The strikeouts dropped off and he’s now served up two poor starts in a row. Despite the latest scores, though, there are signs that his accuracy and command are returning. It's just likely taken some time because of the injury.
Since May 16, Zimmermann has a 6.60 ERA. On that date nearly a month ago, Zimmermann coughed up eight runs (seven earned) on 11 hits across seven innings. Nine strikeouts. A stinker, sure, but the Tigers’ defense was all thumbs that day, too, and they let three runs score from errors alone.
That’s not to say five runs instead of eight would’ve been much prettier — heck, he gave up three runs on two home runs — but a 10-5 victory is far more comforting than a 10-8 nail-biter. Point being, that even with no help, home runs allowed, and having to work longer than normal, Zimmermann still went seven deep and struck out nine.
Where it all went south was during his next start: May 22, when he got pulled after 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball. Zimmermann had retired 13 straight batters after the two-run homer by Logan Morrison, when he suddenly exited the game for a right groin strain. He was sent for an MRI, which revealed the lowest grade strain possible.
Two weeks went by. Zimmermann avoided the DL, missing only one start in the process. He returned on June 3 with no limits except the game situation at hand, and gave up just two runs in his 5 2/3 innings of work. Even if he hadn’t gone deep, it was to be expected considering he’d been dealing with an injury.
Then came the whopper. On June 8, Zimmermann gave up seven runs on eight hits in only 4 2/3 innings to the Blue Jays. Those runs came via a two-run homer, a three-run shot, and a two-run triple. No amount of defense was going to get him out of that one. On Tuesday night it didn’t get much better when he allowed six runs (four earned) to the White Sox.
For a starter who began the season with an 0.55 ERA in April and a 1.50 ERA through seven starts, Zimmermann’s four most recent outings are troublesome at first glance. But it appears that has more to do with his injury and getting back on track than anything else. Oddly enough, the release point on all his pitches has gone up a touch in June. Since the injury, however, he has tightened his pitch location within the strike zone.
What stands out during his last four starts, has been the absence of strikeouts. They’ve been a bit up and down this year, but since May 22, Zimmermann has been consistently awful at getting batters to whiff. He’s gotten just three batters to strike out in each of those four games, a per-game tally he didn’t reach until seven starts into the year.
Zimmermann’s issues aren't one of location, but injury. While his slider may have appeared to be lifeless on Tuesday, it was the best its been since before the injury. From May 22 to June 8, his slider was flat across the middle of the zone with little downward movement. On Tuesday night, 10 of the outs recorded came via a sharp slider.
Between his shortened start until June 8, his velocity had dropped by one mph or more (two on the slider) with all his pitches except the curveball. That changed on Tuesday, when the velocity (he hit 94 mph regularly) and the movement on his pitches returned. The curveball was downright filthy at times.
The results of Tuesday night’s start were ugly — even though the Tigers won that game — but they mask Zimmermann’s improved location, velocity, and movement for the first time since the groin strain. He may not be getting the results he wants right now, but the signs are encouraging. Whether he’s no longer feeling the effects of the strain, it’s just taking some time for Zimmermann to regain his accuracy, and he’s on the right track.