Detroit — He held up pretty good for the first 12 minutes or so, but then came the question about his time in Detroit and he lost it.
Jordan Zimmermann, in a Zoom conference Tuesday with reporters from his three big-league stops (Washington, Detroit and Milwaukee), announced his retirement from baseball after 13 seasons in the big leagues, including five star-crossed years with the Tigers.
“I wish I would have stayed healthy,” he said through tears. “I wish I could have gave more, but my body wasn’t holding up.”
Coming off a dominating five-year stretch with the Nationals, where he made two All-Star teams, pitched a no-hitter and helped them back to the postseason, Zimmermann signed a five-year, $110 million contract with the Tigers in 2016.
And in his first month in Detroit he was 5-0 with an 0.55 ERA. But he turned 30 in May that year and the injuries started and just kept coming — hamstring, shoulder, neck, back, forearm. He would get nerve-blocking injections at the start of the season and sometimes another at the All-Star break just to get through the year.
He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning on Opening Day in Toronto in 2019 and gave up just one run in 13 innings in his first two starts that year. He had a six-game stretch early in 2018 where he went 4-2 and allowed just five runs in 37 innings.
But always the pain came back. He did everything he could to soldier through. He made 29, 25 and 23 starts between 2017 and 2019 and he was probably fully healthy for just a handful of them.
“The thing I’m proudest of,” he said Tuesday, “I was a small-town kid who went to a Division III school (Wisconsin-Stevens Point) and made it to the big leagues. That’s a tough thing to do.”
And over 13 seasons, he made 279 appearances (275 starts), covered 1,614 innings and posted 95 wins and 1,271 strikeouts. He pitched in two games with the Brewers out of the bullpen this year before deciding to retire.
“My mind was still in it, but my body wasn’t,” he said. “And living out of suitcases for half a year, so I felt it was the right thing to do to call it a career. I’m happy to start the next chapter of my life.”
Truth be told, this was the third time in a couple of months that the 34-year-old Zimmermann had decided to retire. He was a free agent this winter after his contract with the Tigers was up. He prepared to play this season, but he was only going to entertain offers from a couple of teams.
“I was set to walk away when the Brewers called,” Zimmermann said. “I didn’t make the team out of spring, so I was set on going home. But they wanted me to go to Appleton (the Brewers alternate site), which is just an hour and a half from my house, so I went there for a month.
“After that was over and I didn’t think I was coming up, I was set to go home again.”
Injuries started to take a toll on the Brewers pitching staff, though, and Zimmermann finally got the call on May 1.
“It was pretty crazy how it happened,” he said. “I was basically retired for a couple of hours. I was up north (in Wisconsin) and they gave me a call and said they needed some help. So I drove down and gave them a few innings. I just tried to bridge the gap until some of those guys got healthy and came off the IL.
“I knew I wouldn’t be there long, but I wanted to help them out.”
Even after just five innings of work, Zimmermann could feel the same old pains creeping back in.
“I was dealing with some stuff, but I could pitch through it,” he said. “But I knew if I kept pitching I would end up on an IL stint. I didn’t feel like going on the IL. For the team and the guys I’m competing with and grinding with every day, I felt the right thing to do was not go in the IL and call it a career.
“I’m happy with the decision I made.”
He hasn’t made any plans, beyond heading back up to his lake house on Lake Michigan, putting his feet up and relaxing for a few days. But he did get a text from Tigers prospect Alex Faedo, and last spring he did promise him and Matt Manning and few other young Tigers pitchers that he’d take them hunting up there one of these days.
“Maybe I can get that done one of these days,” he said.