No neck pain leaves Zimmermann with dash of optimism

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Detroit — All he and the Tigers can do is hope.

They hope those neck demons flee during the coming offseason. They hope he can heal, fully, ahead of February and the start of spring camp.

They hope, most of all, that a man only 31 years old, with a sterling past and three years to go on his Tigers contract, can become the pitcher he and Detroit’s big-league club expect him yet to be.

Jordan Zimmermann rarely takes a dim view of his work and Thursday night’s postgame reflections were again rosy on a night the Twins destroyed the Tigers, 12-1, at Comerica Park.

But he had reason to feel good.

All because, in fact, he did feel good. His chronic neck ills eased after a 20-day layoff. He allowed a single hit through three innings before the Twins popped him for four hits and three runs in the fourth.

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“This was something to build off,” said Zimmermann, who was neither displeased with a series of pitches the Twins turned into three singles and a double in their three-run fourth.

“I felt my mechanics were solid. I had a lot of quality pitches. I felt great.”

Zimmermann has been dealing with the neck situation since his first spring with the Tigers, in 2016. He believes it’s under control and that four months of healing and conditioning should be a ticket to health and peace heading into 2018.

Brad Ausmus tends to agree. Although wishing for health and securing it, especially for pitchers, can be separate pursuits.

“The biggest issue,” the Tigers manager said, “is some kind of maintenance program to make sure the neck issue doesn’t recur.”

It will remain one of a rebuilding team’s mysteries during the autumn and winter.

Can a pitcher, still owed $74 million through 2020, pitch well enough, frequently enough, to make him a reliable 20-percent of next year’s rotation?

Zimmermann knows one thing: If he can’t, a rebuilding cycle will have turned even more rugged, for the Tigers, and for him.

“It’s gonna be tough, probably, for a couple of years,” he said. “But I was part of a rebuild in Washington and we did it pretty fast.”