MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Zimmermann may hold key to Tigers' success

Zimmermann may hold key to Tigers' success

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jordan Zimmermann plans to be "the same old Jordan" in 2016. The Detroit Tigers would be just fine with that level of accomplishment.

One of the reasons for renewed optimism in Tiger Town this Spring Training is the acquisition of Zimmermann. He figures to be the No. 2 starter in Detroit's rotation behind a once again healthy Justin Verlander.

With Zimmermann's previous team, the Washington Nationals, there was always somebody on the pitching staff more heralded. But there wasn't anybody who, over the past four seasons, produced with the kind of consistency and efficiency that he did.

The payoff for Zimmermann, 29, was a contract for $110 million over five years. The payoff for the Tigers could be a return to the top of the American League Central. They had won four straight division titles before falling to fifth place last season.

Detroit made Zimmermann its No. 1 pitching priority in the offseason.

"He was kind of the guy we had targeted," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said on Saturday at Joker Marchant Stadium. "To be honest with you, I thought it was a little bit of a pipe dream that we could get him. A lot of times you target somebody, but it's a lot harder to actually get the guy. And [general manager] Al [Avila] was exploring a number of pitching options. And all of a sudden, after Thanksgiving, Al called me and said, 'I think we've got a shot at Zimmermann.' And by that Friday night, it was done.

Beck on Tigers rotation for 2016

"So it happened fast. Al had talked to [Zimmermann's] agent multiple times over the course of weeks, but it was kind of a pipe dream. ... Then, within a matter of 24 to 36 hours, it happened."

Zimmermann had other offers. But when the Tigers made him their leading priority, that made an impression.

"They had me as their top target," Zimmermann said. "With other teams, I was their second or third option -- and I didn't really like that. I wanted to go with these guys because they wanted me pretty bad."

Zimmermann is the total package, bringing both ability and intangible assets to his work.

"He has a track record, he has professionalism, he has experience, he has a calmness on the mound, he has a competitive edge that it's sometimes tough to teach," Ausmus said. "He has a lot of the intangibles along with good stuff."

Zimmermann has a well-earned reputation as a fierce competitor.

"I've always had that," he said. "I'm a big-time competitor, and I hate to lose. That's just the way I've always went about it. When I was coming up, I wasn't always the best player and I've had to work hard to get to where I am."

Perhaps Zimmermann was made tougher by living through winters in central Wisconsin, where he grew up and where he still spends the offseason.

"You've got to learn to survive," he said, with a smile.

Zimmermann on joining the Tigers

Zimmermann threw his first bullpen session of Spring Training on Saturday, throwing 50 pitches, hitting the catcher's glove in place with complete regularity.

"It looks like his fastball has good life; he threw all four of his pitches," Ausmus said. "Just the first day, you know."

The Tigers are justifiably excited to have Zimmermann on hand. And he is just as happy to be here.

"If you ask me, this is probably the best lineup in the game," Zimmermann said. "Opposing pitchers, coming in here or at their place, it's going to be tough to get through this lineup three times. This lineup is solid 1-9. As long as we stay healthy and do our jobs, we should have a really good year."

There will be an adjustment to a new league and unfamiliar hitters. But going in, Zimmermann knows this.

"[The AL is] a little different animal," said Zimmermann. "I don't really know the hitters. So I'm going to lean on [catcher James] McCann to guide me through the season. I'm just going to be the same old Jordan. I'm going to go out there and try to throw up 200 innings, 32 or 33 starts in the regular season, and stay healthy. That's the biggest thing."

"The same old Jordan" is a typically modest way of putting it. But just that level of performance from Zimmermann could be a major factor behind the Tigers returning to their winning ways.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.