Zimmermann's first rehab start is Friday in Toledo
Minneapolis — As Tigers injured starting pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey get ready to commence their rehab assignments, manager Brad Ausmus was asked how the two might slot back into the rotation.
It’s a tricky question since the current five-man rotation of Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Anibal Sanchez, Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris has performed well.
And, as you’d expect, Ausmus wasn’t about to tackle the question this soon in the process.
“I’m not going to worry about it until we have to make a decision,” he said. “Because as we’ve seen this year, things seem to happen. I am not going to try and predict. I will just wait and make a decision whenever we have to.”
That time is likely to be sometime in the second week of September. And, given their respective timetables, Zimmermann is likely to be the first to be activated.
While Zimmermann almost certainly will be reintegrated into the rotation, there is a chance Pelfrey is put into a bullpen role.
“It’s certainly a possibility,” general manager Al Avila said. “When we signed Pelfrey in the offseason, we had discussions about that, that he could be used in the bullpen … It’s a viable option if it’s a necessity and we think it’s the right decision.
“No decision has been made. We aren’t to that point yet.”
Zimmermann threw a bullpen session on Wednesday and will make the first of what is likely to be three rehab starts Friday for Triple A Toledo.
“I felt like the ball was coming out better today,” said Zimmermann, who has been out the better part of two months with a neck strain. “I talked to the catchers and they feel like I’m back to my normal self.
“The arm speed feels like it’s there. The control is a little off right now, but it’s going to come with the more pitches I throw. I am happy with where I’m at. I feel like it’s coming around good.”
This will be his second round of rehab starts. He made a couple rehab starts at the end of July but his return start with the Tigers on Aug. 4 went poorly and he went back on the DL.
That’s partly why the Tigers will have Zimmermann make three rehab starts this time. He’s likely to build his pitch count gradually from 45 to 75 to 100.
“I’m up for doing whatever,” Zimmermann said. “I rushed back the first time and kind of did more hurt than help. I tried to do things I probably shouldn’t have done and had a setback. But I feel stronger and healthier now than I did before.
“It’s one of those ‘go slow but hurry up’ type of things — kind of a double-edged sword. You do as much as you can, do your work and they will write up the game plan. I am just following it.”
If things continue to progress, Zimmermann could be ready to return to the rotation on Sept. 10.
“I’m going to do everything I can do to get out there,” he said. “This (stinks). Just sitting on the bench and pretty much feeling useless. I’ve basically been a cheerleader for two months now. Hopefully, I can be back in September and help this team try to get into the playoffs.”
As for Pelfrey, he threw a 50-pitch, two-inning simulated game here Wednesday.
“He looked good,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said. “He’s fine.”
Tyler Collins, Andrew Romine, Alex Presley and bullpen catchers John Murrian and Sam Palace were the hitters. Pelfrey threw 22 pitches from the windup, took a between-innings break and then threw 28 more from the stretch.
“He looked fine and he said he felt fine,” Ausmus said. “His command was a little rusty, but he looked fine. He threw all his pitches and the ball was coming out well. He didn’t look like he was holding back.”
Pelfrey is essentially five days behind Zimmermann, so his first rehab start will be Monday or Tuesday with Toledo. He will make at least two and possibly three rehab starts.
One issue with the rehab starts is, the Triple-A season ends on Labor Day, Sept. 5.
Zimmermann should be able to make all three of his starts with the Mud Hens. Pelfrey, though, if he has to make a third start, would have to make it for Low-A West Michigan, whose regular season ends on Sept. 9, but they have qualified for the postseason.
Thus, Pelfrey’s final rehab start could be in a Class A playoff game.
Not a problem, Ausmus said.
“We would like our minor league teams to all have winning seasons,” Ausmus said. “But the most important thing is winning at the Major League level.”
Around the horn
Shortstop Jose Iglesias (hamstring) had two hits for the Mud Hens Tuesday. He is on pace to return to the Tigers on Friday.
Tigers at Twins
First pitch: 1:10 p.m., Thursday
TV/radio: FSD, MLBN, 97.1
RHP Jose Berrios (2-3, 9.28), Twins: It’s been a rough indoctrination for the Twins No. 1 pick in 2012. In his last four starts he’s allowed 16 earned runs in 17 innings, with opponents hitting .329. The Tigers roughed him up back in May, scoring seven runs in two-thirds of an inning. He’s been mainly a two-pitch pitcher – 95 mph four-seam fastball and an 82 mph curve. He will mix in a change-up, as well.
LHP Daniel Norris (1-2, 3.81), Tigers: Even though he was beaten by the Red Sox in his last outing (three runs, eight hits), it was an encouraging outing. His fastball touched 96 and slider was sharp and firmer than it had been at 90-91. His change-up has been too firm, recently as hard as 87 mph. It’s more effective at 85.