Zimmermann injures lat in return, undergoes MRI

Zimmermann injures lat in return, undergoes MRI

DETROIT -- The Tigers held off at Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline because they anticipated getting an impact from injured players coming back. They experienced the yin and yang of those returns in a 24-hour span.

After J.D. Martinez stepped off the disabled list to power the Tigers to victory on Wednesday night, Jordan Zimmermann's struggles in his first start since June 30 had the opposite effect on Thursday afternoon, accounting for all the damage in a 6-3 loss to the White Sox.

As big as the end to Detroit's eight-game winning streak seemed, the possibility of Zimmermann missing more time with injury loomed larger.

After allowing six runs and recording five outs, Zimmermann left Comerica Park to undergo an MRI on his right lat. It's a different injury, lower than the right neck strain that sidelined him for July, but his struggles showed that it's of similar importance.

"We're not going to do anything [rotation-wise] until we find out what's going on with Zimm," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "At that point, we may have to make some type of move. Right now, there's nothing to tell you about that."

The issue wasn't pain, but tightness. From pregame warmups to early pitches, Zimmermann struggled to get loose, an odd concept on an afternoon with a first-pitch temperature of 89. His fastball, which averaged 92-93 mph before his neck issue, averaged 91 on Thursday. Four of the six fastballs the White Sox put in play went for base hits.

"Everything was kind of going up -- up and in to a righty, up and away to a lefty," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "That obviously is from not being able to reach out there, extend out and get on top of the ball. We thought maybe we would go out to the game, and maybe be a little different."

Zimmermann didn't strike out a batter for just the second time in 194 Major League starts.

"First inning, the offspeed stuff was still pretty sharp," Saltalamacchia continued, "but as the innings went on, and got longer and longer, I think it just kind of flattened out."

Salty's sliding grab

Ausmus said he didn't know about the injury until Zimmermann ended the first inning. Since he was feeling tightness rather than pain, the decision was to give him the second to try to work his way through it.

"If it was the same area as the injury was prior, you take him out right away," Ausmus said, "but it was a completely different area. So that's why we gave him a little bit of leeway."

Former Tiger Avisail Garcia hit Zimmermann's first pitch of the second inning -- a 90-mph fastball -- into the second row of center-field shrubs. From there, the struggle was on. At one point, head athletic trainer Kevin Rand went to the mound to check on Zimmermann. He stayed in, but after five runs on five hits in the inning, he wasn't pitching effectively.

"There was no pain. He was just having trouble getting extended and locating the ball," Ausmus said. "So we went with him as long as we could. But ultimately, we chose to take him out."

Because the Tigers didn't trade prospects at the Deadline, they still have depth if Zimmermann can't pitch. Daniel Norris started for Triple-A Toledo on Thursday night and would be on turn when the rotation comes back around on Tuesday. But Norris, having been optioned to Triple-A Toledo on Tuesday, can only make that start if Zimmermann goes on the DL.

"It would be a little bit of a gut punch," Ausmus said, "but I don't think it would knock us to the mat."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.