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Zimmermann continues to struggle without his best pitch

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Chicago — It’s like walking a high-wire without a safety net.

That was the feeling Tigers right-hander Jordan Zimmermann had going into his start Sunday against the White Sox. He knew from his pregame bullpen work that his slider, his money pitch, his security blanket, was not in his tool bag.

“He lost his feel for it and that’s been his go-to pitch,” catcher Alex Avila said. “He’s not really had a good feel for it this year. It comes and it goes and that is unusual for him. It was tough for him going out there knowing he didn’t have that pitch.”

Zimmermann was tagged for seven runs in five innings, including three home runs — Melky Cabrera (change-up), Matt Davidson (fastball) and Todd Frazier (fastball). He has now allowed 16 home runs, third-most in baseball and two more than he allowed all of last season.

“I used to be able to throw the slider consistently for a strike behind in the count and I could keep hitters off my fastball,” he said. “I am not able to do that right now and they are smashing my fastball.”

The Cabrera home run, though not off a fastball, was a function of not having a slider. Without the slider, Zimmermann needed another pitch to get him off the fastball and he tried the change-up. The ball ended up in the right-field seats.

“When I was able to throw my slider, I could get them out front and maybe miss the barrel,” he said. “I am not able to do that now.”

Zimmermann, throwing all fastballs, dispatched six of the first seven White Sox hitters through the first two innings.

“My fastball command has been getting better all year,” he said. “That’s why my last few starts before this one were getting better and better. But the second time through the order, I knew they were going to be on the fastball and I didn’t have anything to get them off it.”

The slider, Zimmermann said, has been spinning back over the plate instead of sweeping off the corner. He’s either been leaving it over the middle of the plate or he’s spiking it in front of the plate.

“It’s been absolutely terrible,” he said. “I haven’t been anywhere close. I have to figure out how to throw it again and get back to how it used to be.”

Manager Brad Ausmus was asked if he was confident Zimmermann could get it back.

“It doesn’t matter how confident I am,” he said. “He’s got to do it. We need him to pitch better. We’re a better team when he’s pitching better. We have to find a way to get him back to that.”

Avila believes Zimmermann is close to returning to form.

“He’s good major-league pitcher,” he said. “He has a really good track record. It’s just a matter of finding it. He’s going through a rough patch, which happens to everybody. He will continue to fight through it.”

Zimmermann said he would spend his next bullpen throwing nothing but sliders, trying to rediscover a pitch he once nearly perfected.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “I don’t understand how it got like this. But it’s something I have to figure out.”

J.D. removed

With the Tigers trailing by seven runs, Ausmus took right fielder J.D. Martinez out of the game in the sixth inning.

“We talked before the game and he said his foot was sore underneath,” Ausmus said. “I decided if I can get him off the field and off his feet at times over the course of the next few weeks until it goes away, I am going to do it.”

Down seven with six at-bats left was the right time to do it, he said.

Martinez missed seven weeks with a sprained Lisfranc ligament in his right foot.

Around the horn

The game was delayed 30 minutes by a quick, hard rain.

… Offensive futility: The Tigers struck out 49 times in this four-game series, the most by any team in baseball in a four-game series since 1913. Also, the Tigers left 36 runners on base and hit .125 (5 for 40) with runners in scoring position.

Twitter.com: @cmccosky