Zimm 'shocked' by Opening Day nod

March 18th, 2018

LAKELAND, Fla. -- While the Tigers' Major League club was toiling through a long afternoon against the Rays in Port Charlotte, had an easier Sunday on the back fields at Tigertown.

With pitching coach Chris Bosio directing from the edge of the bench, Zimmermann went through a battery of situations against a team of Braves Class A prospects. He opened an inning with runners at the corners in order to work on his pickoff move to third base, then picked off a runner at first. He threw back-to-back changeups to a right-handed hitter and gave up a hit. He recorded four outs in his final inning in order to reach his pitch count.

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He threw pitches in the strike zone that young hitters attacked. He threw pitches well out of the zone that young hitters tried to attack.

"I felt good; as good as you can feel on the back field, I guess," he said. "Obviously, there's no adrenaline and you've got those A-ball guys that swing at everything so it's tough to set those guys up."

It's about as different as he'll get from the atmosphere he'll experience in another week and a half, when the Tigers begin their regular season at Comerica Park against the Pirates. But for the first time in his career, he'll be getting the ball on Opening Day.

It's not an assignment he was expecting, not coming off his rocky 2017 season. In fact, Zimmermann said he was "a little shocked" to get the nod. Like most people following the Tigers, he thought would pitch the opener.

"He probably deserved it more than me," Zimmermann said after his five innings of work Sunday. "I'd have been fine pitching the fifth day. As long as I'm out there in the rotation, getting 32 or 33 starts a year, I feel like that's where I need to be, to eat up some innings and help these guys along the way. Whatever they asked me to do, I was going to be doing it and be ready to do it. Turns out it's Opening Day, so I'll be ready to go that day."

Fulmer takes Opening Day decision in stride

Zimmermann had been holding that news for a while. He said Bosio had come to him earlier in Spring Training and told him that as long as he's healthy and made his usual progression, he was in position for the assignment. It wasn't a fallback assignment with Fulmer coming off elbow surgery, Bosio explained, so much as a nod to a veteran who has been working to regain his better, younger form.

"[Zimmermann]'s a big-game pitcher, loves the stage," Bosio said. "He's healthy. He's been real consistent in his outings. Everything pointed in that direction based on his experience and the way he's throwing the ball. He's had a good spring and -- knock on wood -- he's had no setbacks. Time kind of took care of the decision with Jordan Zimmermann, because it showed that he was healthy and moving in the right direction."

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Zimmermann started the Tigers' home opener two years ago. It was his first start in a Detroit uniform after signing a five-year contract the previous offseason, and his seven scoreless innings against the Yankees looked like a promising sign for his tenure. He won his first five starts that season, allowing two earned runs over 33 innings for a 0.55 ERA.

He has struggled to put together a string of solid starts ever since, making that stretch feels like eons ago. But his work level impressed a new coaching staff

"I knew I had a long offseason ahead of me, trying some different stuff to get ready for this year," Zimmermann said. "I switched up a few of my lifts and stuff like that. It all seems to be working out. I feel good and I'm excited to take the ball Opening Day. I know it's like a holiday for Opening Day in Detroit, so I'm excited to hopefully give the fans something to be excited about and get us off on the right foot."

As for Fulmer, Zimmermann said, his time will come soon.

"He's got his days coming," Zimmermann said. "He's going to start plenty of Opening Days. He's going to have a bright future. He'll get his shot."