Zimmermann encouraged after first outing

Right-hander surrenders just one run over two innings

Zimmermann encouraged after first outing

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jordan Zimmermann had been waiting for this since last October. As good as his balky neck felt all offseason after an adjustment, as good as he felt while he was throwing in his side sessions, the right-hander knew his first big test wouldn't happen until he could face a hitter wearing a different uniform, the adrenaline of a game pumping through him.

As he worked his way through the Braves' order, retiring his final four batters following Adonis Garcia's softly hit RBI double over third base, Zimmermann had his feedback in Detroit's 10-7 victory.

"I did a lot of stuff in the offseason to get to this point and get to feeling healthy," Zimmermann said after his two innings of work. "I've done a ton of stuff this spring with the neck and shoulder to keep it loose. Everything is paying off right now. I feel healthy and strong. I am very pleased."

Zimmermann, who averaged 91-92 mph with his fastball over the second half of last season as he worked through neck and shoulder pain, averaged 92-94 mph with his fastball on Monday, according to a scout in attendance. After two three-ball counts in his first three batters, Zimmermann found his location and locked in.

Four of Zimmermann's six outs came on ground balls. He gave up a ground-ball single to Dansby Swanson, but Garcia's RBI single came on an 0-2 slider that wasn't sharp.

"It felt good," Zimmermann said. "I'm usually pretty much ready to go in my first outing. I don't really hold anything back on any of my pitches, but I basically just worked on the fastball today, mixed in a few breaking pitches. I think I threw 20 heaters out of 27 pitches and just mixed in a few offspeed [pitches]. I feel good. I feel normal."

That last statement is something Zimmermann wasn't able to say often last year after signing a five-year, $110 million contract to come to Detroit as a free agent. When Zimmermann could, he was dominating, going 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA in April and stringing four consecutive starts of seven or more innings into May.

By the end of June, Zimmermann wasn't right. He made 15 starts in the first three months of the season, then just three the rest of the way. When he did pitch, his health reflected on his fastball.

"Last year, I was cutting everything off and I had more run on the ball, which is not what I wanted or how I've pitched in my career," Zimmermann said. "I throw a true four-seamer and it will rise. I felt like I had that today."

Zimmermann mixed in more secondary pitches during his second inning once he got ahead of hitters. His slider, according to a scout, had cutter-like run on it, and he finished his outing with a couple good changeups.

As long as he's healthy, Zimmermann has a spot in the Tigers' rotation. He's looking to do more than that.

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.