Liriano Wows In Simulated Game, Nearing Return With Zimmermann

That will likely send Blaine Hardy back to the bullpen.

Will Burchfield
June 12, 2018 - 5:35 pm

Liriano Wows In Simulated Game, Nearing Return With Zimmermann

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The Tigers' starting rotation is a couple weeks and a few hurdles away from getting back to full health. 

Francisco Liriano, out since May 29 with a strained hamstring, impressed in a simulated game on Tuesday afternoon and should return within the next two weeks. Jordan Zimmermann, who went down May 8 with a sore shoulder, progressed in a rehab start Monday night and could be back on the mound for the Tigers before the end of this week. 

The 34-year-old Liriano picked up on Tuesday where he left off. 

"He just threw out there in a simulated game and it was kind of, wow," said Ron Gardenhire. "The ball was really coming out of his hand and diving and darting."

Liriano had a 3.90 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP and was already drawing "strong interest" on the trade market when he went down. He said the biggest concern in his simulated start was "just getting my leg right." 

"Sometimes mentally you feel like it’s still there, but everything feels normal, nothing hurts. It was a great day for me," Liriano said. 

He'll throw a bullpen within the next couple days and, assuming all goes well, make a rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Toledo. He fired 60 pitches on Tuesday and plans to let loose 75 to 80 on Sunday as he rebuilds his arms strength. 

When he returns, liekly toward the end of next week, the Tigers would love to see the same pitcher that performed so well over the first two months. So would Liriano. 

"That’s the plan," he said. "Just continue doing what I was doing and even try to get better. Try to go deep into games, execute pitches and go out there and try to win some ballgames." 

Zimmermann, meanwhile, will return to the mound with the intention of putting the first month of the season behind him. He took a step forward in Monday night's rehab start for Class-A West Michigan, giving up one run on seven hits while striking out six and walking none over five innings. He threw 89 pitches. 

"He did fine, threw the ball very well," Gardenhire said. "Had to use his pitches, which was a good thing. He was throwing a lot of fastballs early and they were taking whacks at it, then he started spinning it, which he needed to do, and started using all of his pitches and he did that very good. Talking to him today, he’s healthy, he feels great. Couldn’t feel any better, he said."

Mapping out the Tigers' rotation, Zimmermann could return as soon as Saturday versus the White Sox. He struggled mightily over the first month, but seemed to turn a corner in his last two starts before landing on the DL, giving up four hits and zero runs over a combined 12 innings. 

Zimmermann figures to replace Artie Lewicki in the rotation, while Liriano will eventually replace Blaine Hardy. Hardy, who takes the mound Tuesday night versus the Twins, has made an argument to stay in the rotation with a 3.75 ERA over four starts, but Gardenhire would rather move him back to the bullpen. 

"If you lose him as a strength in the starting rotation when these two guys come back -- and we know they’re going back in the rotation -- that’s gonna help out our situation in the bullpen because we got a very good arm that has length, plus he can come in and get lefties out," Gardenhire said. "You might lose him (in the rotation), but you’re gaining something in another part of your ballclub because he’s definitely earned the right to be here." 

A six-man rotation likely wouldn't be a consideration, Gardenhire said. Not with all that Hardy can provide out of the bullpen, either as a long reliever, a bridge to the back of the bullpen or a situational lefty. 

"We can use him all kinds of ways, and he’ll be ready for any of it. And then if something happens to another starter we got a guy that can go right back in there," Gardenhire said. 

Healthy arms will soon be in abundance for a pitching staff that has been banged up for most of the season. Liriano said he's eager to see how it looks. 

"We can't wait. Zimm is gonna be back maybe sometime this week, hopefully my next game goes well. Try to come back here and just help the team win some ballgames. Just can’t wait to go out there and compete," he said.