Tigers’ Zimmermann ‘strong’ in first outing; Sanchez struggles

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Jordan Zimmermann

Lakeland, Fla. – One up and one down.

That was the scene in the Detroit Tigers’ clubhouse Monday after a come-from-behind, 10-7 exhibition win against the Braves at Publix Field.

Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, back healthy after battling neck and shoulder injuries most of last season, had an encouraging first outing. Getting dressed nearby was Anibal Sanchez, whose day was decidedly worse.

“I did a lot of stuff in the offseason to get to this point and get to feeling healthy,” Zimmermann said. “I’ve done a ton of stuff this spring, with the neck and shoulder, to keep it loose. Everything is paying off right now. I feel healthy and strong. I am very pleased.”

Zimmermann threw 27 pitches, 20 of which were fastballs ranging in velocity from 92 to 94 mph. He gave up a run on two hits in the first inning (a bloop RBI double by Adonis Garcia) and then had a seven-pitch scoreless second inning.

“I am usually pretty much ready to go in my first outing; I don’t really hold anything back on any of my pitches,” Zimmermann said. “But I basically just worked on the fastball today, mixed in a few breaking pitches. … I feel good. I feel normal.”

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He said he planned on throwing mostly fastballs, with a few change-ups, for his first couple of outings. He will mix in more curves and sliders as his innings get extended. The plan is to sharpen fastball command, and build more arm strength before putting spin on the ball.

“Last year I felt like I threw a ton of sliders,” he said. “I came down here and it was slider, slider, slider, fastball, slider, slider, slider. I want to train my arm and train everything for the fastball – to stay behind it instead of everything being like this (making a spinning motion with his arm).

“You don’t strengthen anything that way. I am just going to stick with the fastball for now.”

Manager Brad Ausmus said the one thing he wanted to see, above all else, was Zimmermann throwing with full arm extension. He saw it.

“He looked like he was getting through it pretty good,” Ausmus said. “His velocity was really good.”

A pleasant soreness was Zimmermann’s clue that his extension was there.

“I am a little sore in the back, which is telling me I’m getting full extension, getting fatigued in the back,” Zimmermann said. “Last year I was cutting everything off and I had more run on the ball – which is not what I wanted or how I’ve pitched in my career. I throw a true four-seamer and it will rise. I felt like I had that today.”

Sanchez replaced Zimmermann in the third, and was tagged for three runs and three hits.

“He left some balls up,” Ausmus said. “Not the results he wanted, but it’s just one outing. Let’s see how he progresses.”

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The first four batters reached against him. And the damage would have worse had it not been for a sensational diving play by third baseman Nick Castellanos for the third out.

The shot by Dustin Peterson was headed for the left-field corner and would have scored two runs.

Results in spring training games, especially the first few, don’t generally mean much, even for a player like Sanchez who is fighting for one of the final rotation spots. But that did not lessen Sanchez’s displeasure.

“Yeah, totally (disappointed),” he said. “I think I’ve been working pretty hard this offseason. To do this in the first outing, it’s not something I wanted to do.”

There didn’t appear to be a lot of life on his pitches. According to a scout’s radar gun, his fastball was 87-92 mph. His slider and change-up, both coming in at 85-87 mph, seemed flat.

“I don’t know,” Sanchez said. “I have to watch the videos. I don’t know what happened.”

The Tigers didn’t do much offensively for seven innings – except for a single, double and RBI by Miguel Cabrera. But, with the aid of some shoddy defense by the Braves, they batted around and scored eight runs in the eighth.

One run scored on a botched fielder’s choice play at second base. Two more runs scored when right-fielder Micah Johnson lost Andrew Romine’s bases-loaded fly ball. It was Romine’s second double of the game.

Catcher Miguel Gonzalez followed with a two-run single, to put the Tigers ahead. The Tigers tacked on an insurance run thanks to a throwing error by shortstop Johan Camargo.

Corner infield prospect Dominic Ficociello capped it with a two-run double, his second hit of the inning.

Twitter @cmccosky