How Tigers' Jordan Zimmermann turned his slider into two potential weapons

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Jordan Zimmermann throws live batting practice.

Lakeland, Fla. – Jordan Zimmermann was fighting with his slider during a live batting practice session Wednesday.

“I threw a couple that were flat, almost cutter-ish,” he said. “Then I moved my (middle) finger off the seam a little bit.”

Amazing the effect a little on-the-fly adjustment like that can have. Almost immediately he started to get more depth on the slider. The spin rate went up and the velocity and trajectory went down. Eureka.

“They told me the slider was at 84 (mph),” Zimmermann said. “Last year, when I was throwing that cutter, it was 87-88. Now it’s at 84 and more depth. I can use that.”

Fact is, he can use them both. Justin Verlander discovered that in his final season with the Tigers. He could throw a slider a little firmer and get it to act like a cutter, and he could also put more spin on it, slow it down and get the depth of a slider.

In effect, you have a pitch that moves laterally (cutter) and one that moves vertically (slider).

“That (87-88 mph pitch) was my slider all those years,” Zimmermann said. “It kind of turned into a cutter. So I feel like I got the slider back and now I know how to throw this cutter.”

At least for now -- velocities can change as he builds his arm strength back up -- Zimmermann’s tool box includes a four-seam fastball (90-92), cutter (87-88), slider (84), change-up (84) and curveball (78-80). Five different pitches from 78 to 92 mph, with depth and movement to both sides of the plate.

“When I am throwing the slider (and the cutter), I am thinking fastball all the time, then at the last minute I just turn it over a little bit,” he said. “When I have both fingers on the seam it stays pretty true and just has a little cut to it.

“When I take the finger off the seam, it helps me know I have to turn it over.”

And, thus, he puts more spin on it, which creates the depth he’s looking for.

“It’s just over the years I kept moving my fingers together, unknowingly,” he said. “The slider went from this (putting one hand on top of the other showing depth) to this (putting them side by side, level). Now I have the depth back and I can still throw the cutter.”

This is what is known as an old dog learning a new trick.

“I have all sorts of weapons out there,” he said, with a laugh.

Zimmermann will make his first spring start on Monday against the Phillies in Clearwater.

Pitch clock implemented

Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Friday that a 20-second pitch count would be implemented on a trial basis for spring training games. And manager Ron Gardenhire pointed out, it will be implemented without enforcement.

"It's going to be trial and error," he said. "It's not a shot-clock like in basketball. They are just going to get the data, that's the way they explained it to me."

The players and umpires will get a few days to get familiar with the clock. Early next week umpires will issue reminders to pitchers and hitters in violation. Later in the spring, depending on the status of the negotiations with the Major League Baseball Players Association, umpires will be instructed to begin assessing ball-strike penalties for violations.

"I can promise you right now, our pitchers are going to do their normal things," Gardenhire said. "The league is going to keep the data to see how it goes through spring training and how it looks and how many violations there are."

The clock has been in the minor leagues for a couple of years. It requires the batter to be in the batter’s box and ready for the pitch with at least five seconds left on the timer. Also, the pitcher just needs to begin his windup or come to a set position. The pitch itself does not need to be thrown before clock expires.

Harrison expected Saturday

Tigers new second baseman Josh Harrison, signed to a one-year, $2 million contract on Thursday, is expected to be in Lakeland Saturday for his medical evaluation. 

"He's been working out and getting after it," Gardenhire said. "It's not like these guys just sit around anymore. They all have their programs. They even face live pitching at some of these facilities."

Gardenhire expects Harrison to begin working out with the team Sunday, but it could be a few days before he sees game action.

"Obviously he will need a couple of days to get in the swing of things before we put him in a game," he said. "But it will be nice to get him in camp working with our guys."

Twitter @cmccosky