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.

Home opener lineups: Tigers vs. Yankees

Pinch-hitter extraordinaire Victor Martinez gets to start today as the designated hitter. The tradeoff is that he’ll be starting under chilly conditions against hard-throwing Luis Severino, last seen by Tigers fans in a wild Spring Training outing that included a fastball that fractured Cameron Maybin’s wrist. Several Tigers regulars got a look at him that day, but the only one to face him in a regular-season game is Mike Aviles.

Gameday | TV: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV | Radio: 97.1 FM, MLB Gameday Audio

tigerslogoTIGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Justin Upton, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. J.D. Martinez, RF
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. James McCann, C
  8. Jose Iglesias, SS
  9. Anthony Gose, CF

P: Jordan Zimmermann

yankeeslogoYANKEES (career numbers against Zimmermann)

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (1-for-3)
  2. Brett Gardner, LF (1-for-3, K)
  3. Starlin Castro, 2B (5-for-25, double, triple, 3 K’s)
  4. Mark Teixeira, DH (0-for-6, 3 K’s)
  5. Dustin Ackley, 1B (2-for-3, triple)
  6. Chase Headley, 3B (4-for-22, 8 K’s)
  7. Didi Gregorius, SS (3-for-8, HR)
  8. Aaron Hicks, RF (0-for-3, K)
  9. Austin Romine, C

P: Luis Severino

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers at Marlins

Jarrod Saltalamacchia caught Jose Fernandez in all eight of his starts in 2014 before Fernandez was shelved with an elbow injury.  Tonight, Saltalamacchia gets to face him.

“I know what he’s capable of doing when he’s not healthy and what he’s capable of doing when he’s healthy,” Saltalamacchia said. “He’s a good pitcher, throws hard obviously. He’s got good offspeed pitches that he can throw for strikes and obviously for chase. The key with him, I think, is just not trying to do too much. … You just have to take what he gives you.”

That’s the only major change in the Tigers lineup. The only other Tigers position player familiar with Fernandez is Justin Upton, and he’s 0-for-10 with seven strikeouts off him. The Marlins lineup remains the same.

Reminder: Tonight’s game is a Fox Sports Detroit Plus matchup with both the Pistons and Red Wings playing tonight.

Gameday | TV: FSD Plus, MLB.TV | Radio: 97.1 FM, MLB Gameday Audio

tigerslogo

TIGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Justin Upton, LF (0-for-10, 7 K’s vs. Fernandez)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. J.D. Martinez, RF
  5. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  6. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
  7. Jose Iglesias, SS
  8. Anthony Gose, CF
  9. Anibal Sanchez

marlins logoMARLINS (career numbers off Sanchez)

  1. Dee Gordon, 2B (2-for-3)
  2. Marcell Ozuna, CF
  3. Christian Yelich, LF (1-for-2, K)
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF (0-for-2, K)
  5. Martin Prado, 3B (14-for-34, double, HR, walk)
  6. Justin Bour, 1B
  7. J.T. Realmuto, C
  8. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS (0-for-4, 2 K’s)
  9. Jose Fernandez, P

K-Rod owns first blown save chance as a Tiger

Francisco Rodriguez wasn’t finishing his pitches, he said, and he paid for it. In that sense, his first opportunity as Tigers closer brought back memories of the bullpen struggles that led Detroit to acquire him last November.

His thoughts on his blown save Tuesday at Miami, on the other hand, were pretty well finished. In that sense, he made his struggles a little bit easier to take.

“It’s pretty obvious I got hit around pretty good,” Rodriguez said after the 8-7 win. “Every pitch was pretty much up over the middle of the zone.

“It was frustrating. You prepare yourself for 4 1/2, five months and the first time of the gate you get that. But hey, it’s behind. At the end of the day, we come back and win the ballgame. Just have to prepare for tomorrow.”

Rodriguez wasn’t missing the strike zone. He threw 14 of his 19 pitches for strikes, so he made hitters beat him. But in leaving pitches in the middle of the strike zone, he left pitches for them to hit.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “Obviously I’m surprised. I don’t remember the last time I got knocked around like that, four base hits in a row. And they squared the ball pretty good. They weren’t like bloop singles, anything like that. You just have to turn the page now, get them tomorrow.”

Actually, the first two hits had some bloop qualities. A soft line drive leadoff single from Martin Prado and a J.T. Realmuto chopper that bounced over Andrew Romine’s head brought the tying run to the plate.

“I think the only pitch I made the entire night was the ball that bounced,” Rodriguez said. “That’s the only pitch that honestly I feel like I made out of 19 pitches.”

After Realmuto’s chopper, they weren’t bouncing. Justin Upton made a lunging catch at the fence, turning Adeiny Hechavarria’s line drive into a sac fly. One out away from closure, Rodriguez got a one-two combination that knocked him down. Derek Dietrich and Dee Gordon hit hard line-drive RBI doubles to tie the game.

“I didn’t make my pitches,” Rodriguez said. “I had four opportunities to make one pitch and I didn’t. Everything was up over the middle of the zone.”

His quotes consistently ended with the point that he’ll put the outing behind him and move on. But he won’t move on easily before thinking about it.

“Definitely it’s painful,” he said. “I’ll go out there now and go to sleep thinking about it. Honestly, I’m not going to be able to sleep. The game’s going to continue in the back of my head. But once the game starts tomorrow, everything has to be behind you.”

Opening Day lineups: Tigers at Marlins

As mentioned earlier in the series post, the Tigers hit Wei-Yin Chen pretty well during his Orioles days.

TIGERS (career numbers off Chen)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (5-for-14, 2 doubles, walk, K)
  2. Justin Upton, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (3-for-6, double, 2 walks, K)
  4. J.D. Martinez, RF (2-for-4, 2 HR, 2 K’s)
  5. Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-4, HR, 2 K’s)
  6. James McCann, C (2-for-2, HR)
  7. Jose Iglesias, SS (1-for-4, K)
  8. Anthony Gose, CF (1-for-3, K)
  9. Justin Verlander, P

MARLINS (career numbers vs. Verlander)

  1. Dee Gordon, 2B (0-for-3, K)
  2. Marcell Ozuna, CF
  3. Christian Yelich, LF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF (0-for-3, 3 K’s)
  5. Martin Prado, 3B (3-for-9, 2 doubles)
  6. Justin Bour, 1B
  7. J.T. Realmuto, C
  8. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS (1-for-5, K)
  9. Wei-Yin Chen, P

Series matchup: Tigers at Marlins

Trying something new on the blog for this season. One thing I’ve wanted to do for a while is to do a setup for each series, so I’m giving this a try.

Scene-setter: The Tigers and Marlins will be the last teams to open up the regular season when they face off tonight at 7:10pm ET, starting a quick two-game opening series at Marlins Park.

Season series: Detroit and Miami play a pair of two-game series as part of the Interleague schedule. The Marlins visit Comerica Park June 28-29.

Probable starters:

  • Tuesday: Justin Verlander (5-8, 3.38 in 2015) vs. Wei-Yin Chen (11-8, 3.34 with O’s in 2015)
  • Wednesday: Anibal Sanchez (10-10, 4.99 in 2015) vs. Jose Fernandez (6-1, 2.92 in 2015)

Key matchups: Both teams’ key sluggers, Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Cabrera, are back and healthy after injury-shortened 2015 seasons, and they’re likely to present matchup problems for opposing pitchers. Stanton flat-out mashes at Marlins Park, and he’ll test both Verlander (who settled down last year after giving up an .849 OPS to right-handed hitters in 2014) and Sanchez (29 homers allowed last year, 17 of them in 285 at-bats against right-handed batters).

The Marlins made the interesting move to start Chen on Opening Day and push Fernandez back to Wednesday. It’ll be Chen’s Marlins debut, but it’ll be a test from his past with Baltimore, where the Tigers had their success off of him. Ian Kinsler is 5-for-14 off Chen, Cabrera 3-for-6, and J.D. Martinez has two home runs in five at-bats (including postseason).

With no designated hitter, Victor Martinez is relegated to pinch-hitting work, which gives Brad Ausmus a nice veteran bat to play in late-game situations. Ausmus has a deeper bench of hitters than last year, so he has other options, but Martinez will loom for RBI situations. The Marlins bullpen has some veteran right-handers in ex-Tiger Edwin Jackson, Dustin McGowan and David Phelps.

Fun with splits: Justin Upton makes his Tigers debut in a National League park against a familiar foes. He loves facing the Marlins, batting .287 (82-for-286) with 13 doubles, five triples and 13 homers in 76 games. Yet he’s a mere .247 (22-for-89) hitter at Marlins Park, though more than half of those hits were for extra bases, including nine doubles and four homers.

Just so you know: Just as season-long Interleague Play brought us the first Opening Day rematch of World Series opponents from the previous season, we have reigning AL and NL batting champions Miguel Cabrera and Dee Gordon meeting in this series. It’s the first season-opening matchup of reigning batting champs since the American League formed in 1901, according to MLB Network research.

Familiar faces: Cabrera, Sanchez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Logan Kensing all are former Marlins. Saltalamacchia is actually in the final season of the three-year, $20.5 million contract he signed with Miami after the 2013 season. The Marlins released him last May but still must pay him under the contract, which is how the Tigers were able to sign him for just over the minimum salary.

The Marlins signed former Tigers starter Edwin Jackson to their bullpen in January. Miami is his seventh team since he was an All-Star starter in Detroit in 2009.

Appointment viewing: While fans don’t get a Verlander-Fernandez showdown, a Fernandez meeting with Sanchez is a bear of a matchup on a getaway day.

Tigers set Opening Day roster

The Tigers don’t open their regular season until Tuesday night against the Marlins, but their Opening Day roster is set. Detroit officially purchased the contract of reliever Logan Kensing, then cut its roster to 25 Sunday by placing six players on the 15-day disabled list.

All of the DL moves had been Outfielder Cameron Maybin went on the DL with a fractured left wrist suffered on a Luis Severino fastball March 1.

  • Left-hander Daniel Norris, who had been a leading candidate for the fifth starter spot going into Spring Training, is sidelined with a left lumbar spine fracture. He was diagnosed a week and a half ago with non-displaced fractures in his spinous process.
  • Right-hander Alex Wilson, a workhorse in last year’s Tigers bullpen, was placed on the DL with right rotator cuff capsulitis. He was sidelined in late February with soreness in the back of his shoulder.
  • Lefty Blaine Hardy, the primary southpaw in Detroit’s bullpen last season, went on the DL with a left shoulder impingement.
  • Right-hander Angel Nesbitt, a part of last year’s Opening Day bullpen, goes on the DL with a right ankle sprain.
  • Right-hander Jeff Ferrell, a midseason call-up to the Tigers bullpen last season, is sidelined with a right rotator cuff impingement.

All of the disabled list moves are retroactive to March 25, meaning each player becomes eligible to return as soon as next Saturday. None of them are expected to be ready for Major League action that soon, though manager Brad Ausmus said Wilson and Hardy could be the first to return.

“I think barring setbacks, most of the guys that are going on the DL will be back somewhere around the middle of April,” general manager Al Avila said Friday. “At least that’s the schedule. We like the team that we’re going to go north with, and we have some guys that are going to be coming back.”

The bullpen injuries created an opportunity for Kensing to become the surprise of camp. The 33-year-old right-hander reported to Spring Training as a non-roster invite on a minor-league contract, and becomes the final piece of a Tigers bullpen that includes nobody from last year’s Opening Day roster.

Nine players on Detroit’s Opening Day roster will be making their Tigers debuts, six of them pitchers. However, all 25 Tigers have already appeared in the Major Leagues.

Friday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Rays

Looks a lot like an Opening Day lineup, if the Tigers had a designated hitter slot for Opening Day.

TIGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Justin Upton, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. J.D. Martinez, RF
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. James McCann, C
  8. Jose Iglesias, SS
  9. Anthony Gose, CF

P: Anibal Sanchez

RAYS

  1. Brandon Guyer, CF
  2. Logan Morrison, 1B
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Desmond Jennings, LF
  5. Kevin Kiermaier, DH
  6. Steven Souza Jr., RF
  7. Steve Pearce, 2B
  8. Tim Beckham, 2B
  9. Hank Conger, C

P: Matt Moore

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers at Orioles

 

Tonight’s game is broadcast live on MASN and MLB.TV. It’ll air on MLB Network beginning at 9pm ET.

TIGERS

  1. Anthony Gose, CF
  2. Jose Iglesias, SS
  3. Justin Upton, LF
  4. Nate Schierholtz, RF
  5. Tyler Collins, DH
  6. James McCann, C
  7. Mike Aviles, 2B
  8. Andrew Romine, 1B
  9. Jordany Valdespin, 3B

P: Shane Greene, Drew VerHagen, Justin Wilson, Mark Lowe, Francisco Rodriguez, Lendy Castillo, Logan Kensing

ORIOLES

  1. Manny Machado, 3B
  2. Matt Wieters, DH
  3. Adam Jones, CF
  4. Chris Davis, 1B
  5. Mark Trumbo, RF
  6. Nolan Reimold, LF
  7. J.J. Hardy, SS
  8. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
  9. Caleb Joseph, C

P: Chris Tillman, Mychal Given, T.J. McFarland, Vance Worley

Tigers re-sign Parnell to minor-league contract

Two days after the Tigers released Bobby Parnell, the right-handed reliever was back in the clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium. The team announced Wednesday it has re-signed the former Mets closer to a minor-league contract.

Parnell was seen boarding the team bus to Sarasota for Wednesday night’s game against the Orioles. Though he’s expected to open the season pitching at Triple-A Toledo, his return gives the Tigers a potentially critical addition as the season goes on.

The Tigers signed Parnell to a minor-league deal with a non-roster invite as camp began last month, hoping to see a pickup in arm strength in his second season back from arm troubles. Parnell gave up nine runs on 15 hits over 9 1/3 innings with eight walks and eight strikeouts, but five of those runs and five hits came in one-third of an inning against the Blue Jays last Tuesday. His stuff improved as camp went along, including a fastball that registered at 96 mph on the Joker Marchant Stadium during a scoreless inning with two strikeouts Sunday against the Astros.

Parnell had enough Major League service time to qualify for an opt-out and a retention bonus, forcing the Tigers to either add him to the Major League roster by Tuesday or offer him $100,000 to stick around. Detroit released him ahead of the deadline Monday afternoon, but hoped all along to bring him back if no big-league opportunities were available for him elsewhere.

The Tigers are hoping for a similar decision from infielder Casey McGehee, who was released Tuesday under similar conditions but could return on a minor-league deal. The veteran was believed to be weighing his options as of Wednesday afternoon.

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