Kissimmee, Fla. — It takes a lot to get Jordan Zimmermann excited. He’s as stoic as they come.
But his heart rate increased a few beats Wednesday morning after manager Brad Ausmus told him he’d likely get the start in the Tigers’ home opener at Comerica Park April 8.
“It’s going to be awesome,” he said after throwing three scoreless innings in the Tigers 7-3 spring win against the Astros. “I am excited to pitch in front of the home fans, and go out there against the Yankees and try to have a good game.”
Ausmus decided to alter his rotation for a couple of reasons. One, Tigers ace Justin Verlander will start the season opener in Miami on April 5. Two, Anibal Sanchez has been working through triceps inflammation this spring and is a little behind in his throwing program. Normally, he would be the No. 3 starter and get the ball for the home opener.
Although he is back on track to start the season on time, he will only be stretched out to about 90 pitches. So it would seem prudent to push him to the back of the rotation to give him a few extra days.
Sanchez, who threw a 45-pitch simulated game against minor league hitters Wednesday, is slated to make his first spring start on Monday. He should make three spring starts before the club breaks camp.
Mike Pelfrey, Ausmus said, will pitch the second game of the regular season in Miami.
“The truth is, it’s Opening Day at Comerica Park and that’s a special day in Michigan,” Ausmus said. “You want to have your best starters pitching as often as possible during the course of the season. But for me, Opening Day for the Detroit Tigers is a special day and (Zimmermann) is a guy I like for that atmosphere.”
It will be Zimmermann’s second home opening start after doing it once for the Nationals in 2014.
“I might be a little more amped up than usual,” Zimmermann said. “But once I get on the mound I will calm down and be fine.”
He battled through some ripped skin near the middle finger of his pitching hand Wednesday.
“Yeah, my nail got hooked on a seam when I was throwing a couple of change-ups and it ripped a little,” he said. “It’ll be fine. Just a little blood.”
Ausmus came out to check on him in the second inning.
“He asked what’s going on and I said I just wouldn’t throw the change-up anymore,” said Zimmermann, who threw 57 pitches.
Didn’t need it. His fastball was boring in on hitters and his slider was, by his estimation, the best it’s been all spring. He struck out the side in order in the first – Jose Altuve on a curve, George Springer on a riding fastball and Carlos Correa with a slider.
He allowed two singles and hit two batters.
“The slider was much better and the curve, I yanked a couple, but I also threw a few good ones,” he said. “My fastball command was a hair off but that’ll come. The ball was coming out good. No issues. I am getting there.”
It was a demonstration of why Ausmus decided to give Zimmermann the ball for the home opener.
“He attacks the hitters, just as he was billed,” Ausmus said. “Good pitcher, good stuff, unafraid.”
Right-hander Michael Fulmer, who is in the process of extending his pitch count for the likelihood of being in the rotation at Triple A Toledo, allowed two runs and three hits in 2⅓ innings. The runs came on a two-out double by Jon Singleton.
“It’s a matter of getting ahead of the hitters,” Ausmus said. “You get behind you are going to get hurt. He’s young, he’s learning.”
Fulmer left with a couple of runners on in the seventh, but left-hander Blaine Hardy closed the inning with a strikeout and pop out.
“That was the best Blaine has looked this spring,” Ausmus said.
Tigers hitters continued to play home run derby this spring. Rookie Mike Gerber, getting the start at DH in place of James McCann (fever), and Bryan Holaday both homered in the second. Holaday, who has four homers this spring, also singled.
Ian Kinsler hit his third of the spring, bring the Tigers’ MLB-leading home run total to 32.