Zimmermann was relieved about neck strain diagnosis

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Toronto — Once they ruled out the scary scenario, Jordan Zimmermann could relax.

Or, at least as much as a pitcher can be at ease on the disabled list, where Zimmermann was stashed Monday when the Tigers starter was diagnosed as having a neck strain, which, he believes, was behind some strange June starts.

What he feared was that all-too-common malady, thoracic outlet syndrome. It’s a circulatory problem that has been shelving an uncommon number of pitchers, including Mets star Matt Harvey.

“Got that resolved,” Zimmermann said Friday, wearing a sweat-soaked T-shirt and taking a break following a workout at Rogers Centre, where the Tigers were rehearsing for a night game against the Blue Jays.

“I didn’t have any of the symptoms — tingling, numbness in my arm. It’s kind of a major surgery. I’m glad it’s not that.”

Ruling out thoracic issues and isolating the neck strain came during a visit in St. Louis with noted vascular surgeon Dr. Robert Thompson, who will perform Harvey’s season-ending surgery, and who oversaw the same procedure on former Tigers Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers.

Just how Zimmermann strained his neck isn’t clear. He said Friday he can’t pinpoint a time or a place, but that he had been having issues as early as spring training. Nor, he said, have doctors ruled out that an earlier strained groin, which put him on the disabled list in June, might have somehow contributed.

Zimmermann knows only that his neck problems, in his mind anyway, were absolutely behind a rugged stretch that saw his ERA soar from April’s 0.55 to June’s 6.43.

“My control — it just wasn’t there,” Zimmermann said, speaking in his customary low-key, just-the-facts, voice. “I wasn’t myself. I was maybe compensating for the neck, I don’t know. I just hope the rest helps.”

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Zimmermann will begin throwing in a few days in a bid to build strength that, he believes, should put him on track for a start not long after the All-Star break.

He still isn’t sure how, or when, a neck strain began working in evil ways to mar a season that had started in stunning fashion in April, when he had a string of 24.1 shutout innings.

There was the “kink” during spring training, which clearly wasn’t having negative effects on his April starts.

But “probably two weeks ago,” he noticed the pain was back.

“It got worse and worse,” he said as his pitching partner, Mike Pelfrey, prepared for the Blue Jays.

Zimmermann will head home to Wisconsin during next week’s All-Star vacation and plans on following a rehab plan there.

“I’ve got plenty of buddies back there who can handle it,” he said, referring to some hometown cronies who are facile enough with a catcher’s mitt.