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Zimmermann finally sliding into comfort zone

MLB.com

DETROIT -- It took months, with a surgery and several rocky starts between, but Jordan Zimmermann found his slider on Saturday and used it to help command six strong innings in Detroit's 10-1 win over the White Sox.

Zimmermann, whose neck injuries held him to just three starts the final three months of last season, returned healthy this year and began gripping his slider tighter than before. It turned into more of a cutter grip, he said, creating less lateral and downward movement than it used to.

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DETROIT -- It took months, with a surgery and several rocky starts between, but Jordan Zimmermann found his slider on Saturday and used it to help command six strong innings in Detroit's 10-1 win over the White Sox.

Zimmermann, whose neck injuries held him to just three starts the final three months of last season, returned healthy this year and began gripping his slider tighter than before. It turned into more of a cutter grip, he said, creating less lateral and downward movement than it used to.

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The change was gradual enough that he didn't notice until after his start last Sunday against Chicago, during which he gave up seven runs in five innings.

"I monkeyed with the grip a little bit, and started throwing it more and more and more in the bullpen," Zimmerman said. "It's coming out a lot better, and it feels like it's my normal old grip. So I'm happy about that."

Just looking at his last two starts, there was a marked difference in his slider's effectiveness. Last Sunday, he threw it 16.5 percent of the time and garnered one swinging strike and one called strike versus three balls in play, according to Statcast™. On Saturday, however, he threw it 36.6 percent of the time, and induced nine swinging strikes and four called strikes with six balls in play.

Four of Zimmermann's five strikeouts Saturday came via the slider, including back-to-back strikeouts of Todd Frazier and Avisail Garcia in the fourth inning. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus agreed that Zimmermann's best offspeed pitch looked like it had returned to form.

"That was one upside to being up here, is that I could really see the break on the slider," said Ausmus, who watched the game on TV after he was ejected in the first inning. "It looked a lot better. Definitely had more depth, more downward movement."

The slider is his biggest pitch, Zimmermann said, because he can throw it in in any count. After a 6.47 ERA and 1.56 WHIP through his first 10 starts, his rediscovered slider may help turn things around.

"I didn't have it for the first two months, and you saw what happened then," he said. "It's a pitch that's kind of my security blanket, and something that I can fall back on when I'm in tough times."

Worth noting:
• Pitcher Anibal Sanchez was diagnosed with a mild left hamstring strain and is considered day-to-day, Ausmus said. Sanchez, who exited his start Friday for Triple-A Toledo after 78 pitches with discomfort, is expected to make his next start.

• Ausmus spoke Sunday about his ejection from Saturday's game, and how he believes the 30-second replay clock is not often interpreted as a hard-and-fast deadline for managers to make decisions. "I think it's designed to speed up the replay process so it doesn't take too long," he said. "Generally, if you give an answer in 35-40 seconds, there's no questions asked and you move on. That one was exceptionally quick for me."

Jordan Horrobin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Detroit.

Detroit Tigers, Jordan Zimmermann