The Detroit Tigers placed starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann on the 45-day injured list with a right forearm strain, possibly ending his season and his tenure as a Tiger. The injury is essentially the same ailment that kept him out much of the 2019 season. With an abbreviated 60-game season scheduled to start in less than a week, the road back to the major leagues this season looks murky.
The Tigers signed Zimmermann to a five year, $110 million contract that expires at the end of this season, when he will be a free agent. The 11-year veteran righthander had hoped to put in a full season to rebuild his value while eating some innings with the rebuilding Tigers. Instead, his 2020 season will be much like his tenure in Detroit: marred by injuries.
Zimmerman was signed as the consensus No. 2 free agent starting pitcher prior to the 2016 season, after David Price, whom the Tigers had just traded and were not going to re-sign. Zimmermann’s career as a Tiger started off well, as he won his first five games and went 5-2 in his first seven starts with a 1.50 ERA before being sidelined with a strained groin. But it was all downhill from there.
A two-time All-Star in the National League, Zimmermann was never able to stay healthy enough to regain his old form in Detroit. He spent time on the injured list with injuries to his right elbow, a chronic nerve injury in his neck, core surgery after the 2018 season, and right elbow and forearm issues in 2019 and 2020. He was the Tigers’ Opening Day starter in 2016, 2018, and 2019, but hit rock bottom that year when he was lit up with a 1-13 record and a 6.91 ERA.
After pitching at least 195 innings in his last four seasons with the Washington Nationals, Zimmermann never logged enough innings to qualify for the ERA title with Detroit. In seven seasons in D.C., he went 70-50 with a 3.52 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. With Detroit, he has gone 25-41 with a 5.61 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP.
Zimmermann was set to earn $25 million in the final year of his contract, which is reduced to $9.25 million prorated for the short season. His move to the 45-day injured list, formerly the 60-day IL, opens a spot on the Tigers’ 40-man roster, and a spot in the starting rotation.
If the Tigers don’t overthink their starting rotation, they will have Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Ivan Nova starting. Norris and Fulmer may still be building up strength, but they should be trusted to get once or twice through the order. They are both bona fide major league starters, which is more than one can say for some of the other “candidates” on the roster.
The Tigers will very likely have to resort to getting early help out of the bullpen from Tyler Alexander, Rony Garcia, and others until their starters can build up strength to go deeper into games. By the end of the season, the team might consider calling up some of their future stars, but not just yet.