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Zimmermann feeling good after back injection

Treatment eases discomfort from bulging discs; Pena eager to mentor younger players
MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jordan Zimmermann went back to his neck specialist last week, planning to receive a preventative nerve block injection in his neck. Instead, he left with an injection in his lower right back.

It was an unexpected development in the ongoing saga Zimmermann has endured to get on the mound over the past couple years. For now, at least, it doesn't appear to be a cause for alarm, or at least any more concern than it was before.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jordan Zimmermann went back to his neck specialist last week, planning to receive a preventative nerve block injection in his neck. Instead, he left with an injection in his lower right back.

It was an unexpected development in the ongoing saga Zimmermann has endured to get on the mound over the past couple years. For now, at least, it doesn't appear to be a cause for alarm, or at least any more concern than it was before.

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Zimmermann has said his neck, which has hampered him for the past two seasons, has felt fine since the nerve block injection he had late last season. He has been able to enjoy a regular offseason workout program for the first time in a couple years. Since he had gone about eight months pain-free between injections, he wanted to get another in the same spot before or during Spring Training to ensure his neck stays loose during the season.

But when Dr. Andrew Dossett, Zimmermann's Dallas-based neck specialist, saw him last week, he apparently advised against it.

"If I didn't feel anything, it doesn't pay to get a shot," Zimmermann said Tuesday morning. "It's like the boy who cried wolf. It might not work as well [the next time]."

Instead of no injection at all, though, Zimmermann received one in his back to address a different issue. He said he had been dealing with two bulging discs, causing discomfort on the right side of his back.

Zimmermann took four days off before throwing Monday, and he said he felt a major difference in his back, though back issues weren't limiting him from throwing this offseason. As for the neck, Zimmermann said they'll treat it symptomatically. If it becomes a problem during the season, he'll get another injection.

Pena returns

The last time Brayan Pena was in Tigers camp, Alex Avila was the starting catcher, Jim Leyland was the manager, Ron Gardenhire was the enemy as Twins skipper, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer were among the pitchers he was catching, James McCann was a fresh-faced prospect, Ramon Santiago was a teammate and the Tigers' Spring Training clubhouse was cramped.

Times change. But the familiarity that remains, Pena said, led him back to the Tigers on a Minor League contract and non-roster invite as he tries to jump-start his career at age 36.

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"I know the organization. I know [general manager Al] Avila," Pena said. "They treated me so well here that if I had a chance to come back, it's a no-brainer for me."

It's a decision he made despite the Tigers' relative depth at catcher. McCann is now the starter, with John Hicks expected to back him up. Another veteran, Derek Norris, signed a Minors deal with a camp invite before Pena. Add in prospects Jake Rogers and Grayson Greiner, and the Tigers are deep behind the plate in Lakeland.

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Pena gets it, but like Omar Infante in last year's camp, he's willing to take on the veteran mentor role.

"They have their guys," Pena said, "but I just want to be here and help the organization, help the younger players."

Quick hits

• McCann was in camp on Tuesday after making the trip from his home in Nashville, Tenn., over the weekend with his wife Jessica and their infant twin boys, who were born premature in December and spent seven weeks in the NICU at Vanderbilt Unviversity Hospital. The kids were just recently cleared to travel, changing McCann's plans for the drive.

• Gardenhire was settled into in his office at Tigertown on Tuesday, but he did not oversee workouts, which remain informal until the first official workout day Wednesday. Pitching coach Chris Bosio observed Tigers pitchers playing catch and running before heading inside.

• The weather has been warm and humid in Lakeland in recent days, but Daniel Norris' large beard remains for now. The left-hander said he plans on trimming it soon and has acquired a clipper for the task, but the beard length at this point makes it a time-consuming challenge.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Brayan Pena, Jordan Zimmermann