Lakeland, Fla. — Nobody remembers the dress rehearsal.
Jordan Zimmermann, whose next start will be Opening Day at Comerica Park Thursday against the Pirates, will be glad of that.
He ended what has been a superb spring training with a 93-pitch, five-inning grind in the Tigers’ 4-1 loss to the Phillies.
“The slider was the only thing that was a little off,” he said. “The curveball was good and I threw some good change-ups. The fastball command was there. But I think I gave up five hits on 0-2 counts. I have to be a little better in that department.
“But I felt good. I felt strong through the whole outing. I feel like I am ready to go.”
It will be the second time in three years Zimmermann has started the home opener in Detroit. The way he’s pitched this spring — injury-free, getting swings and misses on his 92-93 mph fastball, with a reinvigorated slider and a new two-seam sinker — is reminiscent of the way he was throwing in his first month in a Tigers’ uniform in 2016, before neck, back and shoulder injuries derailed him.
“He was just missing today,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “You saw a lot of really close pitches. But I still like the way he’s throwing. The ball was jumping out of his hand today. He’s right where he needs to be.
“He’s healthy. He’s confident with his stuff. He’ll be just fine.”
Six of the nine hits allowed by Zimmermann Saturday — including a ball center fielder Leonys Martin lost in the sky that fell for a double — were by left-handed hitters.
“I made some good pitches today,” he said. “I just had a hard time getting the slider down and in on left-handed hitters. They all seemed to be thigh high and up. If this was the regular season, I would have probably just stuck with the curveball.
“But you still have to work on things here.”
He did strike out six and got 10 swings and misses. Six of those were with his fastball.
“We still have a few things to iron out,” he said.
For example, there was an ill-fated pick-off attempt at third base in the fifth inning, which brought the fourth Phillies run across the plate.
With runners at the corners with two out, Zimmermann threw over to third base without stepping off the mound. Jeimer Candelario was not moving toward the bag.
“There was a little mix-up in the signs,” Zimmermann said. “We’ve been working on that play. I threw it over but you have to be making an attempt toward third base. I threw it behind him so he had no chance of going toward third base.
“It’s something we’re trying to iron out right now. Thankfully it happened down here and not in season.”
The play was botched at its inception. The signal from the bench was for Zimmermann to throw to first base, not third.
“Probably our third baseman has to know the play is on,” Gardenhire said. “Jeimer said he nodded at Zimm. Honestly, we gave the throw-to-first base (sign). But Jeimer nodded and thought they made eye contact.
“If Zimm steps off, it’s OK. He can do whatever he wants. But he just came forward. You can’t really throw to a guy on the run. But there was a reason why they tried it. They made eye contact. Jeimer came over and said ‘My bad.’”
Much good it did him after the fact, but Gardenhire did win a point from the umpiring crew.
It looked like the Tigers had tied the game 1-1 in the third inning on a swinging bunt single by Nick Castellanos. But home plate umpire Sean Barber ruled that Castellanos ran outside the base path and called him out for interference.
“The guy just made a panic throw,” Gardenhire said. “They said he’s out because our guy ran out of the base path. If it hit him with the ball, OK, I’ll give you that. But when the catcher threw it, he had no chance to get him out.
“He threw a hand grenade. If he throws it on a line and it touches him or he blocks first base — I get it. But not on that.”
The umpires called Gardenhire out an inning later and told him he was probably correct, they could have ruled no interference.
“He said, ‘Rules-wise, I can call that either way,’” Gardenhire said. “The guy throws a hand grenade and gets rewarded with an out.”
Around the horn
Right-handed reliever Warwick Saupold, who is fighting for the final bullpen spot, had a strong two-inning outing. He struck out two and the only hit he allowed was on a fly ball that left fielder Mikie Mahtook lost in the high sky. “We need to see that more consistently,” Gardenhire said. “He’s got good stuff. Good movement.”
… The Tigers hitters were subdued by Phillies right-hander, and Lakeland native, Drew Hutchison. He allowed only one hit, a single by Miguel Cabrera, in four innings.