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Tigers’ Jordan Zimmermann is ‘pain free’ and making progress after injury-riddled 2016

If he remains healthy, the Tigers can expect a solid contribution from Zimmermann in 2017.

Baltimore Orioles v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

After dealing with a myriad of injuries in 2016, Jordan Zimmermann is “pain free” and throwing from 180 feet, Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi tweeted on Tuesday. He added that the right-handed starter is on pace to join the team in February when they head to Lakeland, Fla. for spring training. For the Tigers, and fans, that’s about as good a news as they could’ve hoped for.

The 2016 season started out in brilliant fashion for Zimmermann, but not two months later he left a May 22 game for a right groin strain, after the team had already lost Shane Greene to a burst blister on April 27. Zimmermann wouldn’t be consistently healthy for the remainder of the year.

This was the roughest season of Zimmermann’s career. While he did have a 4.94 ERA and a 5.85 FIP in 2010, that was just his second partial season in the big leagues. Since that season, he’s been the proverbial work horse. Justin Verlander dealt with his own injury-marred seasons in 2014 and ‘15 when his performance had people openly talking about the end of his better days.

Timeline of Zimmermann’s 2016 injuries

  • May 22: Exits game after 5 23 innings, right groin strain
  • June 3: Cleared to rejoin team after one missed start, pitches 5 23 innings in two-run outing.
  • June 8-30: Gives up seven, six, seven, and five runs in five starts, with one eight-inning outing between four poor performances. Deteriorated command.
  • July 4: Placed on 15-day disabled list retroactively to July 4 for right neck strain, Anibal Sanchez replaces him in the rotation.
  • Aug. 2: After rehab stint, comes off DL in preparation of Aug. 6 start. Mike Pelfrey lands on the DL the next day.
  • Aug. 6: Gives up six runs in 1 23 innings. Undergoes MRI for tight right lat muscle. Placed on 15-day DL again, along with Nick Castellanos for a fractured left fifth metacarpal.
  • Sept. 5: In his final rehab stint, Zimmermann was lit up for seven runs (two earned) in 4 23 innings. The command wasn’t there.
  • Sept. 6: Zimmermann activated from DL. Manager Brad Ausmus doesn’t confirm when his next start would be.
  • Sept. 10: Four days later, Zimmermann gets destroyed by the Orioles, giving up six runs in one inning amid a 11-3 drubbing of the Tigers. The next day, the team decides to skip his next start and sticks with simulated starts. He wouldn’t pitch again in a game until Sept. 25, when he makes a three-inning relief outing appearance and gives up one run on three hits. A limited workload, Zimmermann had regained some of his command.
  • Oct. 1: A two-run, three-hit start across four innings, this was Zimmermann’s final appearance of the year. The game ended in a loss, but this time it was the bullpen and offense that failed the team, rather than the starter’s performance.

As disappointing as 2016 was, Zimmermann’s first month-plus did give the Tigers a solid glimpse of what he could provide when healthy. He posted a 1.50 ERA amid seven starts and started the year with three consecutive scoreless starts of seven, six, and 6 13 innings, respectively. His efforts had also earned him American League Pitcher of the Month honors for April, with a 0.55 ERA.

In the five years prior to coming to Detroit, he put up a collective 3.30 FIP and 3.14 ERA for the Nationals, walking just 1.7 batters per nine innings and putting up 7.3 strikeouts per nine. He also averaged 213 innings a season for the team that drafted him in the second round of the 2007 MLB draft.

There’s no way to know what to expect from Zimmermann in 2017 until he’s placed in real-game situations. However, given his track record in the past, if he is indeed healthy, then he’ll be invaluable to the rotation this season. One of the biggest issues the Tigers faced in 2016 was that their rotation was never whole, even to start the year.

Daniel Norris had hit the DL before the season got underway (non-displaced fractures in his back), and had Michael Fulmer not emerged as the eventual AL Rookie of the Year, the results would’ve been far more brutal. Coupled with Anibal Sanchez’s issues and Mike Pelfrey’s awful year, it’s not surprising that the team faced adversity in limiting opposing damage.

Signing Zimmermann to a five-year, $110 million contract was viewed as a smashing bargain at the time, but that waned as the season became awash. It’s an unforeseen circumstance that can’t be predicted any more than you can stop the snow from falling in the winter. But if Zimmermann is indeed healthy entering the 2017 season and beyond, then the Tigers’ gamble will have paid off. Right now, that appears to be the case.