Atlanta — Jordan Zimmermann was three batters into his simulated game Friday afternoon when he noticed nobody was swinging the bat.
“I asked (pitching coach) Rick Anderson, ‘Are they going to swing or not?’” Zimmermann said. “He said he told them not to swing in the first inning.
"And that was the inning I had my best stuff."
Zimmermann, working his way back from a UCL sprain in his right elbow, threw two, 20-pitch innings against a quartet of hitters — Ronny Rodriguez, Jeimer Candelario, Dawel Lugo and Gordon Beckham. They did swing in the second inning, but only Rodriguez put a ball in play (a soft single to center).
“It felt good,” Zimmermann said. “I was locating my pitches real well in the first inning. The second inning I worked out of the stretch, but overall, it was really good.”
Beckham said there was good life and movement on all his pitches.
"I told him that I generally tell people the ball was coming out good when they come back so they feel good about themselves," Beckham said. "But I really did think he looked good.
"The ball was coming out of his hand good and he had a lot of late life on his slider, change-up and fastball."
Zimmermann will throw a bullpen session on Sunday and barring any setbacks, he will make the first of two scheduled rehab starts at High-A Lakeland on Wednesday.
“I will probably throw 50 or 60 pitches in the first one and go from there,” he said. “I’m going to take it one step at a time. I’m not going to say two starts and I will be ready. I think I will be, but a lot of things can happen between then.
“I just have to take it day by day.”
Zimmermann threw all of his pitches and he said he had full extension on his slider and curveball — which is a good indicator of elbow strength. He wasn’t short-arming the pitches.
“He felt healthy and that’s the big thing,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “This is just about the confidence factor on how his arm is going to hold up. He’s got to be able to reach out with that slider. If he cuts it off, it will break flat across the plate.
“If he can throw it with full extension, he gets that depth he had earlier in the year.”
Zimmermann believes he’s past that point already. Now it’s a matter of rebuilding arm strength.
“I felt relief the first time I took the ball and was able to play catch and be pain-free,” he said. “That was the biggest key, being able to throw pain-free, knowing it’s healed up and it’s all good in there. I’m just excited to get out of this hot weather and do down into hotter weather (laughs).
“Hopefully I can be back up in a couple of starts.”
Seeking second opinions
Jordy Mercer (right quad strain) and Josh Harrison (left hamstring strain) will be in Dallas on Monday. Both will be examined by specialist Dr. Daniel E. Cooper — one of the Dallas Cowboys doctors. The Tigers hope they can get some clarity regarding the best course of action — rehab or surgery.
“There is no timetable for either of them,” Gardenhire said. “We can’t do anything until we know. We are going to find out how much damage Harrison has and we will see if they see anything different in Jordy’s thigh.
“It’s all about what the doctor sees.”
Mercer has gone on the injured list twice with the same quad strain. Initial tests revealed Harrison has a second-degree hamstring strain.
Gardenhire and coaches Ramon Santiago and Joe Vavra were on the field at around 3 p.m. Friday working with a group of middle infielders — including Brandon Dixon, who was to play second base for just the ninth time in his big-league career.
“We went through turning double-plays, the shifts assignments, the whole package,” Gardenhire said. “Just communicate. That’s what we talked about. We’ve got people playing all over the place. The biggest thing they need to do is, before the ball is hit, communicate.”
Gardenhire reinforced an old baseball adage: When in doubt, get one out.
“It’s a real simple theory,” he said. “But on the shift, if it looks like it’s going to be one of those crazy double-plays, just get an out. But it all starts before the pitch. When we’re moving guys all around in the shift, the two guys who get shifted to the other side — communicate.”
Beckham, Lugo, Candelario and Rodriguez were also taking part in the session.
Around the horn
Starting pitcher Tyson Ross, out since May 11 with ulnar nerve neuritis, is scheduled to throw off the mound for the first time Tuesday.
He is expected to extend his flat-ground long-toss out to 120 this weekend.
Tigers at Braves
First pitch: 4:10 p.m. Saturday, SunTrust Park, Atlanta
►LHP Daniel Norris (2-3, 4.18), Tigers: He’s allowed three earned runs or less in five of his last six starts, which coincided with him putting his two-seam fastball back into the mix. Still, his slider (30% whiff rate) and change-up (40%) remain his most effective pitches.
►RHP Mike Soroka (5-1, 1.07), Braves: He’s allowed one run or less in all eight of his starts this season and his WHIP (0.89) is fifth-lowest in the National League. He’s primarily a sinker-slider pitcher, with opponents hitting .157 off the former and .119 with a 39 percent whiff rate off the latter.