Zimmermann fine in rehab start, turns gaze to Detroit

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Toledo — Jordan Zimmermann was a big splash for the Tigers this offseason.

He might be their big splash at the trade deadline, too.

The veteran right-hander reported after his second rehab start Friday night that he’s been pain-free for a couple weeks now, and expects to be in Detroit soon.

“Hopefully,” Zimmermann said, “in five days I’ll have a Detroit uniform on.”

Zimmermann threw 78 pitches over four innings for the Mud Hens, after throwing 50 pitches in his first rehab start, also over four innings.

His fastball command was off a bit Friday, which is to be expected with him having missed nearly a month with a neck injury.

The secondary stuff was better, especially the curveball and slider.

“I fell behind a lot of guys, and when you fall behind, you have to come back and they know you’re coming with the fastball. Those are the hits I gave up,” said Zimmermann, who allowed six hits, including back-to-back singles to start the game.

“That’s the road to coming back. You have to figure this stuff out a little bit. You’re not gonna be as sharp sometimes.”

Zimmermann, the 30-year-old who signed a five-year, $110-million deal with the Tigers in the offseason, was at 48 pitches through three innings, but ran into some battles in the fourth, including 10 pitches to the last batter he faced, Emilio Bonifacio, who flew out to center.

Zimmermann’s fastball touched 93, but sat mostly 90-91.

He threw 47 strikes to 31 balls, and walked a pair, both in his final inning.

“Getting some more reps is what every pitcher needs, and it’s just a matter of me getting back out there and getting more reps,” he said.

“The main thing is, I’m healthy.”

Zimmermann struck out one, and allowed a pair of runs in a game against the Gwinnett Braves that was delayed by heavy rain in the top of the sixth inning.

He also made a nifty play on defense, jumping off the mound to get a first-inning squibber between him and first. He got the out, and held a runner at third.

The Tigers’ rotation needs help. Zimmermann will be one big boost, and Daniel Norris could be the other. General manager Al Avila might still go shopping for some depth there, but he’s fine with the front three of Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer and Zimmermann.

The Tigers were 7 1/2 games out of first place when Zimmermann went down in late June. They had a great chance to pull within 3 1/2 games of the Cleveland Indians on Friday night, with Zimmermann, J.D. Martinez and Norris all set to return sometime in the next week.

“I’m excited,” Zimmermann said. “Anything I can do to help the team out is great. J.D. is pretty close to being ready. Hopefully we come back and we keep playing and playing great and we get into the playoffs.”

Around the horn

Alex Presley, signed to give the Tigers some outfield depth, extended his hitting streak at Toledo to 11 games, and was 2-for-2 with a sacrifice fly when play was halted by the rain.

... Catcher John Hicks, the latest nice find by Avila among the minor-league free-agent pool, threw out his 19th would-be base-stealer, and has thrown out 42 percent, tops among qualifiers in the International League.

... JaCoby Jones made an impressive play in center field, racing to the gap to cut off a hard smash and firing a bullet to second, limiting the opposition to a single.

... Toledo on Sept. 4 will give away a bobblehead honoring Justin Verlander’s rehab start here last year, when he wore a dinosaur-themed Mud Hens uniform.

... How mean: Toledo’s in-game promotions crew picked on former Tiger Omar Infante, who was the player picked to win the fans free ice cream if he struck out. He didn’t.

... Here’s the official pronunciation for Tigers relief prospect Joe Jimenez’s last name: HIM-en-ez.