Cleveland – About 30 minutes before the roster move was announced, Tigers right-hander Jordan Zimmermann was a topic of conversation in manager Brad Ausmus’ office. Specifically, Zimmermann’s recent struggles were the topic of conversation.
“I don’t know that I could identify a reason,” Ausmus said. “But it’s not like it’s gone unnoticed.”
A reason was identified shortly after when the Tigers announced that Zimmermann was going on the disabled list retroactive to July 1 with a strained muscle on the right side of his neck.
Anibal Sanchez will start in Zimmermann’s place Tuesday against the Indians, and right-hander Dustin Molleken was recalled from Toledo.
“It’s probably been nagging at him for 10 days to two weeks,” Ausmus said after the game of Zimmermann. “It wasn’t going away. He took treatment and he hadn’t thrown since his last start, hoping it would go away or at least abate. But he tried to throw today and it just hasn’t. We’re going to take some steps now to get it right.”
Ausmus thought it was possible the neck strain might have been a factor in Zimmermann’s struggles.
“It could have been,” he said. “When you don’t feel right physically, have an effect. And he doesn’t usually complain about anything unless it’s serious.”
Since June 6 he’d allowed 25 earned runs in 35 innings – a 6.43 ERA. Opponents hit him at a .309 clip in that span, with a .880 OPS.
Even more uncharacteristic, he’s been getting beat up by right-handed hitters (.300, .789 OPS). Throughout his career, he’s always gotten right-handers out more frequently than left-handers.
He’s also been unable to put hitters away when he’s ahead in the count. This year, opponents are hitting .281 against him with two strikes. They are hitting .286 against him in 0-2 counts.
In recent starts he’s had trouble getting a feel for his slider, which has always been his out pitch. That would contribute to right-handers hitting more comfortably against him. In his last start against the Indians, they pummeled his slider (.571).
“Over the course of a long season, you go through these things,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “You get dinged up. You don’t feel 100 percent. He’s always had that slider. Right now, he’s getting on the side of it and it’s spinning more than it usually does.
“It can be something as simple as that. A lot of our pitchers are making mechanical adjustments and it’s been helping.”
Before the injury was announced, Ausmus felt like Zimmermann’s recent struggles against right-handed hitters was an anomaly more than a worrisome trend.
“To me, it’s akin to when Miggy (Cabrera) wasn’t hitting left-handers,” he said. “Do you think Miggy wasn’t going to hit lefties all year?”
The Tigers now turn back to Sanchez. He was removed from the rotation twice this season, the last time after he was rocked by the Indians on June 25. He gave up a pair of home runs in the first inning and allowed four runs in five innings.
In 12 starts this season, he has a 6.71 ERA and a 1.654 WHIP. In eight relief appearances, his ERA is 2.84 with a 1.184 WHIP.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Ausmus said. “We need a good outing. We can’t expect him to go too deep because his pitch count isn’t up.”
The Tigers might have considered recalling Matt Boyd from Toledo, but he pitched Sunday and wouldn’t be able to start tomorrow.