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Mixing up arsenal, Zimmermann posts 5 K's

MLB.com @beckjason

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jordan Zimmermann looked like he was in for a long afternoon after two home runs in a three-pitch span in the opening inning on Thursday. He threw Starling Marte and David Freese sinkers, but they both cut over the plate before being sent out to right for opposite-field home runs that left Zimmermann shaking his head.

A few innings later, after striking out Freese on a front-door slider to end his afternoon with 3 1/3 innings and five strikeouts, Zimmermann had a little better feeling.

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jordan Zimmermann looked like he was in for a long afternoon after two home runs in a three-pitch span in the opening inning on Thursday. He threw Starling Marte and David Freese sinkers, but they both cut over the plate before being sent out to right for opposite-field home runs that left Zimmermann shaking his head.

A few innings later, after striking out Freese on a front-door slider to end his afternoon with 3 1/3 innings and five strikeouts, Zimmermann had a little better feeling.

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"The last couple innings, I was able to throw some sinkers in and get some ground balls to the infielders," Zimmermann said after the Tigers' 8-3 loss to the Pirates at LECOM Park. "Fastball was good and the slider was really good today. I finally got the depth I was looking for, other than the one that [Francisco] Cervelli hit for a double. The two homers and the double were really the only bad pitches I threw all day."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Four of the five strikeouts were on sliders and changeups, the exception being a fastball that froze Sean Rodriguez for a called strike right after Freese's home run in the opening frame. Zimmermann struck out four of his final six batters, including a called third strike on Marte for a strikeout-throwout double play to erase a threat in the third.

The slider and changeup were similar velocities. Zimmermann came in wanting to throw the former a little more, especially to right-handed hitters. It wasn't anything that pitching coach Chris Bosio recommended, but something the righty decided to do while warming up in the bullpen as he tries to find more ways to mix up his arsenal against opponents.

"I always liked that pitch: Backdoor slider to lefties, front-door to righties," Zimmermann said. "After you buzz them in with a heater, you come back with that and lock them up a little bit. I've always liked that, but I've never really done it a whole lot, so I wanted to give it a try today."

Zimmermann threw 38 of his 58 pitches for strikes, and he did not walk anyone. He has a 6.75 ERA through three starts, including back-to-back three-run outings, but also has eight strikeouts over six innings in those two starts.

Bullpen battle: Jimenez gets out of jam
Manager Ron Gardenhire said coming into camp that he needed to see the young pitchers on the Tigers staff in order to form an opinion. Nearly halfway through the Spring Training schedule, Joe Jimenez is making an impression on him.

It wasn't a clean outing that made an impression on Thursday. Jimenez allowed an unearned run in the fifth inning thanks to a leadoff single and a error at second base on a potential double-play ball. But considering Jimenez had runners at second and third with nobody out, holding the Pirates to a sacrifice fly was big.

"The ball was coming out of his hand great," Gardenhire said. "That's a heavy ball that he's throwing right now. It's got some life to it. I like his arm. I like that big guy. He's definitely in the mix here, we obviously know that, and I think [Bosio] likes him, too. That's a good arm. That's a power arm."

Jimenez sandwiched a Freese sac fly between strikeouts. Colin Moran fanned on a foul tip for the first out, then Rodriguez took a called third strike to end the threat.

"It made me work more than any other outing. It came out good," Jimenez said.

Jimenez credited his slider, a secondary pitch that has taken on primary importance for him this spring. Bosio worked with him early in camp to change the grip, creating different movement with the same throwing motion.

"I feel so confident throwing it in any count," Jimenez said. "The swings and misses make me realize it's a good pitch."

Up next
Michael Fulmer returns to the Tigers rotation Friday for a 1:05 p.m. ET start against the Mets at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. Fulmer missed his scheduled start last Sunday due to muscular soreness in the back of his right elbow, but has felt fine since. The radio call will be available via Gameday Audio and in Detroit on AM 1270.

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

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