DETROIT -- Jordan Zimmermann is already expecting to undergo another nerve block injection in Spring Training, the treatment he has had the last couple years to address the neck issues that have hampered him almost throughout his Tigers tenure. But the neck injection isn't a sign that the neck issues
DETROIT -- Jordan Zimmermann is already expecting to undergo another nerve block injection in Spring Training, the treatment he has had the last couple years to address the neck issues that have hampered him almost throughout his Tigers tenure. But the neck injection isn't a sign that the neck issues have returned.
It's not so much treatment, he said, as it is planning.
"We might get an injection sometime during spring, just precautionary so it doesn't flare up right away," Zimmermann said Thursday before embarking on the Tigers' Winter Caravan. "I got the one in November , and I made it to the All-Star break [last season], and then I started feeling it again. So I'm thinking if I get it in Spring Training, I should be able to make it through the whole year. I think that's the way we're leaning."
Zimmermann says he feels good so far, throwing the ball "free and easy" in his offseason workouts without issues. That was his hope when he underwent his last injection late last season, to allow himself the workout regimen he didn't get the previous winter. Now it's a matter of timing the injections so that he can get the most out of them. If he can go 7-8 months without issues, as he did in 2016-17, then he hopes a Spring Training injection would give him enough pain-free time to get through the season.
There's also the matter of timing the recovery from the injections. Zimmermann missed two turns in the Tigers' rotation last September, when he had his last injection. He couldn't throw for four days after the treatment, then needed another four days to build up his arm to game readiness again.
It's a potentially crucial year for the 31-year-old Zimmermann, whose injury battles were less than expected when he signed a five-year deal as a free agent in November 2015. He went 8-13 with a 6.08 ERA in 29 starts last year, leading MLB with 108 earned runs allowed, despite missing a few starts. He's 17-20 with a 5.60 ERA in two seasons as a Tiger.
New pitching coach Chris Bosio watched video on Zimmermann this offseason and told him he was much slower to the plate than he was a few years ago. Zimmermann said it was the product of "me running a thousand things through my head. … The mental side of it, I just felt a little off, like arm slot. Are my hands high enough? Are they too low? Little stuff like that, you can't be thinking about that when you're on the mound. You just have to get the ball and go."
With Justin Verlander in Houston and Anibal Sanchez a free agent, Zimmermann is now the reigning veteran in a Tigers rotation that will skew young. Free-agent signing Mike Fiers is actually 11 months older than Zimmermann, but doesn't have as many innings or games pitched in the Majors.
"I'm excited to hopefully stay healthy and help these guys out as best I can with any questions they have," Zimmermann said. "I've seen a lot in this game over the years, so I have a decent amount of input. Just have to help these guys through the hard times. We'll have some ups and downs and just have to keep our heads high and keep battling every day."
It's not the position Zimmermann expected when he signed, either for himself or the team. His deal, along with Justin Upton, were the last of the big contracts the Tigers signed in their push for contention. Now the focus in Detroit is on the future, behind a potential rotation of highly rated prospects making their way up the farm system.
Zimmermann has three more seasons on his contract. Once Victor Martinez's contract expires at season's end, Zimmermann and Jose Cabrera will have the only long-term contracts on a Tigers roster that is getting younger, as the payroll goes lower.
Zimmermann has been part of a rebuild before; he made his big league debut in 2009 on a Nationals team that lost 103 games that season and 93 the next. The same team won 98 games in '12 behind a rotation that included Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Giovany Gonzalez.
"When I first came up, [the Nationals] were real bad," Zimmermann said. "We had a couple good Drafts and the next thing you know, we were going to the playoffs every year. We've got some veteran guys. We brought in Mike Fiers; he's got a good track record. You just never know how the year's going to turn out. I'm excited to get down to Florida and get outside with these guys and go through some practices and really see what we've got then."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.