Zimmermann signs Minors deal with Crew
In-game video to return; truck departs with camp dates set
MILWAUKEE -- Former All-Star Jordan Zimmermann is hoping to revive his career with his home-state team.
Zimmermann, the pride of Auburndale, Wis., who pitched at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, signed a Minor League deal with the Brewers that includes an invitation to big league camp. The team announced the pact on Tuesday while releasing a 57-player Spring Training roster.
“If I didn’t have anything left, I probably would have retired and gone out on my own terms, but my body and my mind tell me, ‘You still have more left,’” Zimmermann said. “Obviously, I want to go out there and stay healthy. I know I can get guys out.”
The right-hander, 34, is coming off a five-year, $110 million contract with the Tigers that did not go as planned. Zimmermann went to Detroit as one of the top pitchers in baseball following a stint with the Nationals from 2009-15, making All-Star teams in ’13, when he was 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA, and ’14, when he was 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA and pitched the first no-hitter in Nationals history.
But after a stellar opening month with the Tigers -- he was American League Pitcher of the Month for April 2016 after posting a 0.55 ERA -- Zimmermann struggled with injury and decreasing velocity over the rest of his tenure. He posted a 5.63 ERA over five years in Detroit, topping 25 starts in only one of those four full seasons before being limited to three appearances and 5 2/3 innings in MLB’s shortened 2020 season because of a forearm injury.
Among other setbacks over the years were a shoulder strain in 2018 and an ulnar collateral ligament strain in his elbow in '19, when Zimmermann avoided Tommy John surgery but was 1-13 with a 6.91 ERA in 23 starts.
“A lot of people didn’t think I would be able to make it back [before the end of 2020], but I came back and I felt extremely good at the end of the year and was able to pitch in a few games before the season was over,” said Zimmermann, who credited an aggressive program to strengthen the muscles in and around his forearm. “I stuck to that this offseason and I feel good. I feel healthy. If I didn’t feel good or I didn’t feel healthy, I was probably thinking about retiring. But I started working out, started running, started throwing and doing everything I normally do. The body feels good and the mind is telling me to keep going. I’m going to definitely give it another year and we’ll see what happens after this year.”
In Milwaukee’s camp, Zimmermann will compete to serve as pitching depth in a rotation led by Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. Beyond that home-grown duo, the Brewers’ rotation options include right-handers Josh Lindblom, Adrian Houser and Freddy Peralta and left-hander Eric Lauer. Zimmermann expects to report to Spring Training to stretch out as a starter, but he told the team he’s open to anything, be it starting, relieving or bouncing between roles.
Zimmermann is one of two Wisconsin natives on the Brewers’ Spring Training roster. The other is another pitching product of UW-Stevens Point, righty reliever J.P. Feyereisen.
“I didn’t have much interest all offseason, so when they called and were interested, it was definitely a place I wanted go to,” Zimmermann said.
In-game video to return
Major League Baseball on Tuesday released highlights of the health and safety protocols agreed upon for 2021, including the return of seven-inning doubleheaders and the runner on second for the start of each extra inning, and new rules related to containing the spread of COVID-19.
One other significant change caught the eye of Brewers hitting coach Andy Haines: While communal video rooms will remain closed in 2021, players will have access to in-game video via the iPads in each dugout, with steps taken to obscure catchers' signs. That’s a big change. In recent years, the iPads were only loaded with video before games, allowing hitters to get a look at stock footage of a reliever warming in the opposing bullpen.
“Having [in-game video] available again, I think we were all holding our breath that they were going to make it happen,” Haines said. “That’s something we’ve been wanting pretty badly.”
Christian Yelich was among the players around MLB who cited the lack of in-game video as one of several reasons that offense was down across the sport. Prior to the pandemic, a hitter could dart up the dugout tunnel to the video room immediately to watch an at-bat pitch by pitch, facilitating small adjustments for subsequent at-bats. For certain players, the visual feedback became a vital part of his routine.
In 2020, routines had to change. Haines remembers getting word on either the eve of, or the morning of, Opening Day in Chicago that in-game video would not be available in the interest of avoiding indoor spaces.
“It was thrown on us late, and that was nobody’s fault. We understood,” Haines said. “We understood the challenges the league had with health protocols and what we were all up against. Chalk it up to 2020.”
With health and safety protocols set, Spring Training camps are set to begin as scheduled next week. As a sign that things are on schedule at the moment, the final equipment truck was to be loaded at American Family Field on Tuesday and sent on its way to Phoenix.
Brewers pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to camp on Feb. 17. Position players are scheduled to report Feb. 22 and the first full-squad workout is planned for Feb. 23.