Lakeland, Fla. — Rays outfielder Denard Span and Tigers pitcher Jordan Zimmermann were teammates for a few years in Washington and no doubt they’ve had their encounters on the back fields in live batting practice.
So when Span stepped into the batter’s box against Zimmermann at Publix Field Saturday, he had a pretty good idea what he might see. And Zimmermann knew he knew.
“I knew he was probably cheating a little bit,” said Zimmermann, making his second start of the spring. “He knows I like to go in and play with him a little bit.”
He went inside with three straight fastballs at 93, 92 and 91 mph. The left-handed hitting Span turned on two of them and sent them way foul into and beyond the stands along the first baseline.
Zimmermann had him right where he wanted him.
“I’m sure he was thinking I’d keep pounding him in and I was making sure it was way in so he couldn’t do anything with it,” he said. “Then I had the whole plate set up away for the change-up.”
Zimmermann put an 85-mph change-up on the outside part of the plate and Span swung right over top of it.
“I was able to set some guys up today,” he said. “I felt good. I feel I’m where I need to be.”
Zimmermann went 2.2 innings in the Tigers’ 7-4 exhibition loss to the Rays Saturday. He threw 51 pitches (31 strikes) and struck out three. Two of the three hits he allowed did damage, though — a solo home run by Adam Moore and an RBI double by C.J. Cron.
“I threw some good pitches,” he said. “The command’s just a hair off, but that’ll come. I felt like I was staying behind the fastball and I was able to throw it up and in (struck out Kevin Kiermaier swinging with one) and keep it in on guys.
“A few leaked back to the middle, but for the most part, I felt when I missed they were off instead of on the plate.”
The slider, an important pitch for him, has yet to come around for him, but he said that is typically the last pitch that does.
“It’s still a little sweepy,” he said. “I am still working on the depth. But it’s tighter than it was last year. Last year it was a little short, just a little cut. It’s got more movement this year, just need to get a little more depth.”
His cardio was better, too. In his first start he got winded quickly working at the brisker pace pitching coach Chris Bosio has asked for.
“Yeah, I asked Boz how I was doing today because I felt like I was slower,” Zimmermann said. “He said, ‘No, you are right where you need to be.’ And I didn’t feel winded, so that’s good news.”
What’s really good news for the Tigers is that Zimmermann is healthy and looking more and more like he could be the stabilizing presence in the rotation they need.
“Everything feels good,” he said. “No complaints.”
Farmer to the ’pen
It’s official. At least for the duration of spring training. Buck Farmer is a relief pitcher.
He’s toggled between started and reliever throughout his professional career. He finished last season in the Tigers’ rotation and came to camp expecting to compete for the fifth rotation spot.
But when the Tigers signed Francisco Liriano earlier this week, pitching coach Chris Bosio informed Farmer that he’d be competing for a bullpen spot.
“It’s just nice to have clarification,” said Farmer, who has made two, one-inning relief appearances this spring. “It’s nice to know where I’m at, just like every other guy in here. He’s a catcher, he’s a relief pitcher, he’s a starting pitcher, he’s a shortstop.
“It’s nice to know where you are at because you can perfect that craft. I’d rather be perfect at something than mediocre at two different things.”
The question will be whether he continues to work out of the bullpen if he starts the season in Triple-A.
“I am not worried about that right now,” Farmer said. “If I go down to Triple-A and they want me to start, then I will start. It will take some time to stretch back out, but if that’s what it is, then that’s what it is.”
The Tigers got a pair of two-run home runs from two very important pieces of the puzzle — Nick Castellanos and Victor Martinez.
Castellanos blasted a 96-mph fastball from Rays starter Chris Archer into the teeth of a hard wind blowing in from center field and put it on the berm beyond the left-center field wall. It was hit third home run of the spring.
Archer, in his second start of the spring, faced eight batters and got five outs (41 pitches, two hits and two runs).
Martinez, batting left handed, sent a towering blast into the Tigers’ bullpen in right-center field off a 93-mph fastball from right-hander Jose DeLeon. It was Martinez’s second homer of the spring.
The Rays broke the game open in the fifth and sixth innings off pitchers who will likely start the season in the minor leagues.
They scored a pair of runs off left-handed pitching prospect Gregory Soto in the fifth. The inning was aided by an error by shortstop and prospect Sergio Alcantara, who booted what would have been an inning-ending double play.
They got two more off right-hander Spencer Turnbull in the sixth.
Adduci in mix
Outfielder Jim Adduci, who has two home runs this spring, got his second game action at first base on Saturday.
He played the final four innings — and it was not as an emergency fill-in.
“No, I want to see what he can do,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I think he can play anywhere…I think that guy can hit. I really like his swing. So the more places you can be efficient at, it’s always good.”
Adduci, Chad Huffman, Niko Goodrum, Ronny Rodriguez, Alexi Amarista and Jason Krizan are in the hunt for one or two possible utility spots.
Around the horn
Mike Gerber, trying to win a spot as an extra outfielder, channeled his inner Willie Mays and made a sensational running catch at the wall in center field in the seventh inning. He turned his back to the infield and sprinted to the wall, catching Brandon Lowe’s liner over his shoulder.
… Left-hander Daniel Stumpf continues to have a quietly impressive camp. He set the Rays down in order in the eighth on 13 pitches. Eleven of them were strikes. His fastball sat at 94 mph and his change-up was at 84-85 mph.