Detroit – Remember when the starting rotation was the one set piece of the Tigers’ puzzle?
It’s not so much anymore.
Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire announced that veteran Jordan Zimmermann, who was scratched from his scheduled start Friday, was dealing with tightness in his forearm and was being sent out for tests.
“It’s a worry, for sure,” Gardenhire said. “But we will wait for answers. We’ll let the doctors look at him and go from there.”
Zimmermann missed nearly two months last season with a similar ailment. It was diagnosed as a strain of the ulnar collateral ligament and the fear was Zimmermann would need Tommy John surgery, which he’d already had in 2009.
Surgery was not required, but the recovery process kept him out from April 25 to June 19. A similar diagnosis and recovery would likely cost Zimmermann the season – which is the last on his five-year, $110 million deal with the Tigers.
Zimmermann, 34 and a two-time All-Star, came to the Tigers in 2016 after posting a 70-50 record, with a 3.32 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in seven seasons with the Nationals. But from his second month in a Tigers uniform until now, he’s battled an assortment of injuries – neck, back, shoulder and elbow. He had core muscle surgery before last season.
His numbers with the Tigers reflect that: 25-41, 5.61 ERA, 1.43 WHIP.
Zimmermann, who started and threw 47 pitches in three innings last Sunday in his only intrasquad start of camp, is the second Tigers’ starter to go down. Lefty Daniel Norris, who is awaiting clearance from the MLB COVID-19 protocol, hasn’t pitched competitively since the Tigers shutdown camp in Lakeland in March.
“We’re working on it,” Gardenhire said. “We’re still waiting on the Norris situation and now with Zimm, we’ve got to wait and see how everything turns out. We can’t make any decisions right now.”
Among the options to fill one of the rotation spots, lefty Tyler Alexander, struck out five over four innings Friday night. After a rough first inning (three runs, five hits and a walk), he didn’t give up another hit and set down nine of the last 10 hitters he faced.
Another option is former Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched in a game since September of 2018.
The Tigers have also been stretching out non-roster pitchers Dario Agrazal, Shao-Ching Chiang and Hector Santiago.
But the intriguing option, of course, is the club’s No. 1 prospect, right-hander Casey Mize. He has pitched arguably as well as any pitcher in camp and will almost certainly make his big-league debut this season.
The Tigers, though, may want to keep him on the taxi squad for seven days, which would save a year of big-league service time and possibly only cost him one or two starts. He could still, conceivably, make 10 starts in this 60-game season.
“We’re trying to fill holes,” Gardenhire said. “We’d love to get Norris back in here if we can. But we can only control so much. It’s a little dicey right now.”
Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull and Ivan Nova, the rest of the rotation, have had solid to spectacular camps.
“We will make decisions after we find out more about Norris and Zimm,” Gardenhire said. “This definitely makes an impact, for sure,” Gardenhire said. “Other people are going to have to step up while these guys are not pitching. We have to be careful with this whole situation.
“We’ll work our way through it, that’s all you can do.”