VIERA, Fla. — Now-Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann knows Jayson Werth well enough to know he doesn’t swing much early in the count, at this time of year. When he faced him Saturday in the second inning of the Nationals’ 8-4 Grapefruit League win over the Tigers, he threw him a first pitch fastball.
But, in a moment of his characteristic quiet cunning, Zimmermann figured Werth might anticipate his anticipation and swing away. So he threw that fastball for a ball, hoping Werth would bite. He didn’t, but waved at an unexpected slider on the next pitch. Eventually, he popped out to right, out-guiled by his former teammate.
“He’s yelling at me out there rounding first after he popped up,” said Zimmermann afterward, arm wrapped in ice, with a satisfied smirk. “It was fun.”
In a bright orange cap that looked strange on pretty much every Tiger, but even stranger on him, Zimmermann ran to the Space Coast Stadium mound from the first base dugout for the first time in his career Saturday. Stephen Strasburg ran to the mound from the third base dugout, also making his Grapefruit League debut, creating as marquee a pitching matchup as can exist in spring training.
Zimmermann worked 2 2/3 innings and allowed one hit, a line drive single to Pedro Severino that prevented him from working through the Nationals’ order untouched. The crowd cheered him loudly as he walked off the mound, part Tigers fans appreciating the outing, part Nationals fans appreciating so many outings past.
“It was nice,” Zimmermann said. “I thought something like that might take place. Like I said all along, the fans are great, and they showed it again today.”
Meanwhile, Strasburg showed flashes of late-season dominance in early March. A few curveballs broke around the plate, but several landed in the zone or induced fruitless swings. A few changeups missed low, but better there than up with that pitch, and he located it well to Detroit regulars Victor and J.D. Martinez.
“I threw a lot of really good pitches, just one pitch, but that’s to be expected,” said Strasburg, referring to a first-pitch home run by Bryan Holaday that scored two runs in the second. “I’m just gonna continue to work on the (pitch) selection, fine-tuning everything. I kind of struggled throwing the fastball in to righties a little bit, kind of yanking it a tad, but curveball felt really good and the fastball away felt really good as well.”
Five of the six outs he earned came on strikeouts. He allowed that red-hot Holaday homer and a single to baseman Mike Aviles and finished with a line of two innings, two runs, two hits, one walk and five strikeouts, all accomplished on 34 pitches, 22 strikes.
“He just made one pitch and got jumped,” Dusty Baker said. “But he had them eating out of his hand when he was throwing that first-pitch breaking ball. He can’t do it all the time. Maybe he didn’t think that kid was gonna be swinging at the first pitch. That’s the only bad pitch he made. He threw some electric pitches up there — I mean, easy.”
Strasburg acknowledged the oddity of seeing Zimmermann in a different uniform. Their families are close, as Zimmermann has a two-year-old son and Strasburg a two-year-old daughter, and they chatted in the outfield and weight room Saturday. Zimmermann also ran into Werth in the weight room, and saw Tanner Roark, Aaron Barrett and Gio Gonzalez during the course of the day. He saw Werth, Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper and the rest from the mound.
“It was definitely fun getting out there and attacking these guys,” Zimmermann said. “Especially after all that smack talk, that they said when I move on they’re gonna take me deep and this and that.”
>>>>> Ben Revere, who has hit four home runs in his career, two against the Nationals, homered to deep right off Bruce Rondon, a two-run shot that tied the game.
“He got a pitch up and he’s strong,” Baker said. “He’s strong. I mean, I’ll take it when he gets it. I just don’t want it to go to his head…Revere hit the ball hard to shortstop. He’s been swinging the bat good.”
Scott Sizemore and Matt Skole also homered, Sizemore’s second blast of the spring. Brendan Ryan had a hit and scored a run, and is hitting .444 in four games so far this spring.
>>>>> Dusty Baker said Jonathan Papelbon, who was not seen around the complex Friday or Saturday, had to fly home for “a family emergency.” Baker curtly described the situation as one of those “none-of-your-business” things, and said he expects him back Sunday. Papelbon has yet to pitch in a spring training game.