Putting Zimmermann’s debut in perspective
The Tigers’ home opener is an institution here. It’s also an honor for whoever gets to start the game. Until now, that has almost always gone to someone who has been here before.
The Tigers have had new pitchers start on Opening Day before. Kenny Rogers did it in 2006, and Jason Johnson did it in 2004. But both of those were on the road. But no pitcher in at least the last century had made his Tigers debut by starting the home opener.
Jordan Zimmermann broke the tradition. And then he topped it.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, the only previous Tigers pitcher to toss seven or more scoreless innings on two or fewer hits in his first game with the team was Dave Roberts, whom the Tigers had acquired in a seven-player trade with the Astros (they have a habit of those big trades with Houston) before the 1976 season. He tossed a complete-game two-hitter on April 17 of that year at the Angels.
Then came Zimmermann.
“I felt good,” he said. “I didn’t have my best stuff, but for the first start of the year at home, [it felt good] to give the fans something to celebrate.”
Zimmermann didn’t force Yankees hitters to pound the ball into the ground. In fact, he had more fly outs (seven) than groundouts (six).
He didn’t send them down hacking, either. He recorded just three strikeouts, and he had just five swings and misses his entire outing, according to MLB.com’s Gameday app.
His fastball wasn’t as hard today (average 91.4 mph) as he usually does (93.0 average last year, 93.5 career, according to Fangraphs), nor was he commanding it up to his expectation, according to his words. But with good secondary pitches — surprisingly good, given the cold weather and what you would expect would be a difficult grip on the ball — he worked.
He wasn’t squared up often. When he was, the conditions were quite forgiving.
“Fastball command wasn’t really there,” Zimmermann said. “I was hit-or-miss with that. I missed my fair share over the middle, and they didn’t barrel me up today. I got a little lucky in that department, but my offspeed was good and I could throw it wherever I wanted.”
Said Jacoby Ellsbury: “I thought he did a good job of getting his breaking ball over early after his first go-around. He really didn’t miss location. For his first outing in the cold, I thought he threw pretty well.”
He was the workhorse the Tigers wanted when they signed him. He doesn’t have to be perfect, but he’s also a very good pitcher when he isn’t. On Friday, he made a historically good first impression.