Zimmermann starting to look like his healthy self again

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Minneapolis — There was something familiar about the way Jordan Zimmermann pitched Monday night in Kansas City — fearlessly pounding the strike zone, pinpointing his fastball in the northern quadrants of the zone, the slider and curveball biting down at the southern edges.

He looked like a right-hander who had a tremendous three-year run in Washington from 2012 through 2015.

“That last start, I felt like I was my old self again,” Zimmermann said.

That’s it. After his first season in Detroit last year was derailed by injuries, he’s struggled to maintain consistency with both his command and with the movement on his pitches.

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But it all came together on Monday against the Royals. He went 6 2/3 innings, scattered seven hits (just one extra-base hit) and struck out a season-high seven. But what harkened to memories of a pre-injury Zimmermann was his command.

Of his 97 pitches that nigh, 79 were strikes. That’s an 81-percent strike rate, the highest by a Tigers starter at least as far back as 1988. He had 10 0-2 counts in the game.

“I guess I was just throwing strikes and the balls I was throwing they were swinging at,” Zimmermann said. “It’s just one of those crazy things that happen.”

That’s underselling the performance. It wasn’t happenstance; it’s the way Zimmermann built his reputation — at his best, he is a guy fills up the zone.

“That’s been the case my whole career,” he said. “I don’t know what the numbers are, percentage-wise, but I feel like I throw a ton of strikes. Sometimes it hurts me a little bit because I will get 0-2 and throw a pitch that’s too hittable.

“But it’s also to my advantage because the hitters know I am going to throw a ton of strikes and they are going up there swinging. So I can get quick outs and go deeper in the ballgame.”

The pre-injured Zimmermann would make his living throwing 93-95 mph four-seam fastballs up in the zone and then breaking off sliders down and away. Post-injured Zimmermann is still living up in the zone, but now it’s with a 91-93 mph fastball.

The margin for error is smaller, which partly accounts for the 22 home runs he’s given up, fifth-most in the American League.

“The last start I was throwing some high fastballs and guys were swinging at it and swinging through it,” he said. “I got a couple strikeouts on high fastballs. That’s part of my game; throwing it up, and up and in, and when I am able to do that, it opens up the slider down and away.

“It’s just something I need to stick with.”

Zimmermann doesn’t think he’s had to alter his repertoire at all since the injuries. The problem has been getting back to his old mechanics.

There is evidence that it’s happening.

Around the horn

Manager Brad Ausmus was asked if he’d envision a scenario in which utility man Andrew Romine might start at catcher. “Maybe the last day of the season, if it didn’t mean anything,” he shrugged. After Romine started in right field Thursday, he has started at every position except pitcher and catcher this season — the first Tiger since Shane Halter in 2000 to do that. And catcher is the only position he hasn’t played. He is the team’s emergency catcher.

… Ausmus was on the Tigers in 2000 when Halter played all nine positions in one game.

… Mikie Mahtook is cooking. Since June 21, Mahtook is hitting .354 with three doubles, a triple, two home runs and 10 RBIs. In 19 games, he’s raised his average from .231 to .282.

… The Tigers went into Friday’s game with the best intra-division record in the Central — 22-18 (.550). The Indians were 23-20 and the Twins 22-20 within the division.

Twitter.com: @cmccosky