Zimmermann hopes uptempo pace gets him back on track

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Jordan Zimmermann’s buzzword this spring has been tempo. His mission is to get back to working quicker and being quicker to home plate.

One of the first things pitching coach Chris Bosio noticed was Zimmermann took a full second longer to deliver a pitch last year than he did during his dominant years in Washington. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is significant lag.

Zimmermann got his first chance to test a quicker tempo Saturday in the Tigers’ spring home opener, a 5-4 win against the Blue Jays.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 5, Blue Jays 4

“I got out there and I was trying to work quick and I got pretty winded in the first inning,” he said. “I came off and asked Bosio how my tempo was and he said it was perfect. I said, ‘Well, I need to get in better shape then because I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack out here.

“I felt like I was going super fast but the tempo was good. I am happy with it.”

Zimmermann allowed two hits in two scoreless innings. His fastball was firm at 92-93 mph. By firm, it had had good life without the arm-side run, tailing action, that often got him in trouble last season.

He said his tempo began to drag after he injured his groin in May 2016.

“Yeah, I started falling into bad habits as soon as I hurt the groin two years ago,” he said. “I really slowed everything down and I think that’s when it started. Basically, it was a year and a half of bad tempo.

“Now I am trying to get back to where I was, so it feels a little odd right now.”

The goal is to speed up everything – his routine between pitches and certainly from the time he gets the sign until he throws the pitch.

“The whole package,” he said. “The minute I take the sign until I start my windup and going through everything,” Zimmermann said. “I just need to speed that up.”

His pace will slow with runners on base, as usual. But with the bases empty, he wants to dictate the tempo of every at-bat.

“Take the sign, get set and get moving,” he said. “Don’t give hitters extra time to get their bat wiggling and do all that stuff. As soon as they are in the box, I want to be coming with the pitch.”

Candelario cooking

Zimmermann left with a 4-0 lead as the Tigers — playing what very likely could be their starting lineup — jumped on Blue Jays right-hander Chris Rowley.

Nicholas Castellanos slammed a two-run triple to the gap in left-center and scored himself when the throw sailed into the Jays dugout. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who doubled and scored in the second, blasted a long solo home run in the fourth.

Candelario, a switch-hitter, was hitting left-handed on both, and both were opposite-field rockets.

“These are my first really good looks at him,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He stands up there pretty good and when the bat head comes through there, he’s got a heavy bat going to the ball. He pops it pretty good — it makes a good sound.”

Game effort

Right-hander Alfred Gutierrez has been in the Tigers system since 2012, signed at 17. In six seasons, he has risen has far as Low-A West Michigan. But he had himself a moment Saturday.

He was called over from minor-league camp as an extra arm and was summoned in the seventh inning after another minor-leaguer, Matt Hall, walked the bases loaded with no outs.

He was able to set down the three batters he faced, allowing only a sacrifice fly, and the Tigers escaped the inning with a 5-3 lead.

Gardenhire had some compassion for Hall.

“We will have him back,” he said. “I don’t want him to end like that. We’ll get him back here another time.”

Around the horn

Left-hander Blaine Hardy was scheduled to pitch Saturday but was held back because of shoulder tightness. “We’re not going to (pitch him) if he’s got something like that going on,” Gardenhire said. “We want him healthy.”

… The Tigers have a split-squad day Sunday. Most of the regulars will be in Lakeland to play the Pirates. Against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, left-hander Matthew Boyd will make first spring start. John Hicks, JaCoby Jones and Dixon Machado will also travel. 

Twitter @cmccosky