DETROIT — It took an adjustment halfway through his six-inning outing, but Jordan Zimmermann gave the Tigers a solid start to the year.
His offspeed pitches weren’t working so well in the first three innings, and Zimmermann knew it. It’s what put him in a bases-loaded bind in the third, and he’s lucky he escaped without severe damage. But after a fastball resulted in an inning-ending double play, things turned around and he relied on the offspeed more.
“For me that was the play of the game,” Zimmermann said. “Those guys make plays for you all year and make plays they're not supposed to make. Bases loaded, 1-0, with the three-hole hitter up, you get a ground ball. It was definitely the play of the game for me.”
From then on, Zimmermann was sharper. He finished with 10 of the final 12 batters retired, and a lot of silly swings to accompany the empty bases. After a gruesome 2016 filled with injury and poor starts resulting from the former, he’s happy the neck is no longer bothering him and hindering his performance.
With a healthy rotation, the Tigers have a strong chance for the postseason. Last year, they nearly made it without one at the start or finish, and this season they’ve entered regular-season play with both a strong, if largely young rotation, and a healthy lineup — with J.D. Martinez the lone exception.
But a big part of that health is Zimmermann. Mid-game adjustments are nothing new, but with the injuries that plagued him last year, being able to effectively make them and get a win out of it with only one run allowed was huge. For Zimmermann, having that fresh start and a brand new chance at a better impression meant “a lot.”
Getting back into the groove of things took time, even after spring training. That line between being too fine and just fine enough was what Zimmermann was trying to balance, and he had a hard time of it in the first three innings. Not until the end of the third did everything click for him.
“I went to the changeup a little bit and the curveball a little more (after that),” Zimmermann said. “The first couple innings, I couldn't get a real good feel for any breaking stuff. The ball just felt chalky in my hand. I was using as much sweat as I could to get a grip on the ball. As the game went on, I got a little warmer and felt a lot better and the ball started coming out better and I had a lot better feel for the curveball and I threw some good changeups.”
That third inning wasn’t the only jam Zimmermann faced on the day, but it was the turning point in the game for how effective he would feel. He was able to get ahead of hitters with more ease, and even when he fell behind, he found a way to stay in control of the situation. The result: one run across six innings and three strikeouts — two of which happened after the third.
Saturday was just the beginning. Zimmermann is still warming up and refining his arsenal after a lost 2016. If he stays healthy this year, then the Tigers have one heck of a performance to look forward to.