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Tigers' Jordan Zimmermann 'outstanding' in first start

MELBOURNE, Fla. -- Facing his former team for the first time since signing a five-year, $110 million contract with the Detroit Tigers in November, former Washington Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann was sharp in his first outing of the spring.

The 29-year-old gave up just one hit and struck out one in 2 2/3 innings on Saturday at Space Coast Stadium, a game the Nationals won, 8-4. It was a little weird facing his old teammates, he admitted, but that was to be expected. He was glad to get it out of the way early and silence all the “smack talking” he has heard from his old cohorts.

“It was different, obviously, but I went out there and attacked them like I planned on doing all along,” Zimmermann said. “You know these guys, and they switch it up on me. I throw [Jayson Werth] a first-pitch heater. Usually he takes first pitch, and I figured he might be swinging. I kind of threw it for a ball, and then I threw a slider, and then he was yelling at me rounding first after he popped up. It was fun.”

Zimmermann said he threw all four of his pitches and worked on his changeup, which he feels has come a long way in the past few weeks. Working with a 40-pitch limit, Zimmermann returned to the mound in the third after expending 26 pitches in the first two innings.

“He looked crisp. He looked clean. He didn’t seem to be any different than any other game,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said.

Catcher Bryan Holaday, who homered twice, said he thought Zimmermann was “outstanding,” especially for his first start.

“He threw all four pitches. He threw both sides of the plate. He commanded the strike zone really well. He threw the ball up in the strike zone really well. He got a couple of guys out with a fastball up on their hands, and they were really good pitches, and his changeup was really good today,” Holaday said. “We were really working on that to left-handed hitters. I thought he threw the ball really well.”

Zimmermann was given the last-batter signal when Pedro Severino came up to the plate. Severino ended Zimmermann's day with a base hit, but he exited the field with a warm ovation from the Nationals fans.

“It was nice,” Zimmermann said. “I figured something like that might take place, and like I said all along, the fans are great and they showed it again today.”

In other news:

  • Victor Martinez continues to put an injury-hampered 2015 season in the rear-view mirror with a strong start this spring.

    The 37-year-old veteran, who entered the game 4-for-9, legged out a single to second base -- the type of play that would’ve been impossible for the previously hobbled designated hitter.

    “I’ve been feeling pretty good,” said Martinez, who went 1-for-3.

  • Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez threw a bullpen session on Saturday, his first in almost two weeks since experiencing inflammation in his lower right triceps.

    According to Ausmus, his arm felt good, though he is still a bit congested; Sanchez went home on Friday due to a bronchial ailment.

    Ausmus said that Sanchez will likely require another bullpen session as well as an opportunity to face live batters before he returns to game action.

    If healthy, Sanchez is expected to occupy the third spot in the rotation behind ace Justin Verlander and Zimmermann.