'Total command': Zimmermann starting to have look of Tigers' Opening Day starter

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Jordan Zimmermann

Lakeland, Fla. – Manager Ron Gardenhire hasn’t announced who his Opening Day starter will be, but the man who pitched four impressive innings here Thursday looks like he’s right for the gig.

Jordan Zimmermann, in his third spring start, gave up a double and RBI single to start the day, then promptly dispatched 12 straight hitters – including six by strikeout -- in the Tigers’ 3-1 Grapefruit League loss to the Bryce Harper-less Phillies.

Zimmermann has worked nine innings this spring and allowed two runs, five hits and one walk, while striking out 14. Not too shabby.

BOX SCORE: Phillies 3, Tigers 1

“Today was one of those days where I had everything working,” said Zimmermann, who threw 60 pitches Thursday. “Other than the first two batters, I felt I was in total command out there today.”

Granted, he was facing a split-squad Phillies team, but all four of his pitches were crisp. He got eight swings and misses, most with his slider and change-up.

“I threw more sliders today, but the change-ups I threw were all down, so I was very pleased with that,” Zimmermann said. “I was working the slider inside, at the front hip of right-handed hitters and they were giving up on it.

“I threw a good amount of change-ups, too and got strikeout on a high fastball, too.”

Zimmermann has three starts left this spring and if he stays on the current schedule, he would be in line to pitch the opener at Toronto on March 28. Gardenhire, though, isn't committing to that.

"We don't quite have that answer yet," he said. "There is a long ways to get there before we decide -- health-wise and the whole package."

Health, Zimmermann said, is the biggest difference for him between this spring and the past two. 

“I’m feeling good and I feel like my mechanics are where they need to be,” he said. “In years past, I always felt just a little off. But my mechanics are good and my health is where it needs to be. I am able to locate all four of my pitches in any count.

“It’s a lot easier to pitch when you don’t have to worry about anything else out there.”

Game bits

Joe Jimenez worked a clean 11-pitch fifth inning. He’s allowed just one run (a home run) with six strikeouts in four innings this spring. Rule 5 draftee Reed Garrett also worked a clean inning.

…The Phillies scored two runs with two outs off right-hander Sandy Baez to break a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning.

…The Tigers' first run was generated and scored by the legs of JaCoby Jones. He hit a ground ball just inside the bag at third base and hustled to second with a lead-off double. After Jeimer Candelario walked with one out, Nick Castellanos hit what looked to be an inning-ending double-play grounder to third.

Jones, though, never stopped running and scored when the throw to first base was high.

…Jones was replaced by prospect Daz Cameron in the sixth inning, and as he has all spring, he made an immediate impact on the game. He stole a hit from the Phillies' Mickey Moniak running down a slicing liner in left-center field.

Cameron got a late break on the ball, but he recovered and caught it backhanded after a full-speed dive.

…Right-hander Zac Houston pitched a 14-pitch scoreless inning. His fastball was at 94 mph consistently and he showed an effective sweeping breaking ball. He has struck out five hitters in 4.2 innings this spring.

Twitter @cmccosky