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Detroit Tigers sidearmer Nolan Blackwood faces Harold Castro in the intrasquad game on Sunday, July 12, 2020, at Comerica Park.

Detroit Free Press

Jordan Zimmermann walked off the mound frustrated after his first inning on Sunday afternoon.

It was a familiar scene: Zimmermann, the veteran right-hander, has made far too many of these walks during his five seasons with the Detroit Tigers.

Once a power pitcher who would throw consistently deep into games, Zimmermann was bitten by the injury bug a month into the 2016 season — he was the American League Pitcher of the Month that April — and has often walked back to the dugout in the middle innings or earlier since.

Sometimes, it’s after getting pulled. Others, after a rough inning.

But on Sunday, in his first intersquad appearance, Zimmermann walked off without recording three outs. In that first-inning struggle, Zimmermann was hit hard. He wasn’t missing bats and his pitch count exceeded the team’s limit.

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“First inning, there wasn’t much coming out,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He didn’t have much command of his fastball and that happens. But he’s been around a long time, so those types of things happen and then he made some pitches in the second inning out there and he was fine after that.”

Now 34 and in the final season of a five-year, $110 million deal — Zimmermann is due just over $8 million in 2020, prorated — he’s pitching for his career.

With his contract essentially a sunk cost and the team’s top pitching prospects on the cusp of debuting at some point this season, Zimmermann will have to stay healthy and pitch effectively to stick in the rotation.

And while staying healthy may be easier in a shortened season, that’s merely one half of the battle: With every inning carrying added importance this season, especially with the team’s top prospects needing them to develop, Zimmermann needs to pitch capably.

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After that first inning full of hard contact and line drives, Zimmermann pitched around an error in the second and retired six batters in a row to end his outing.

“He spun the ball a little bit better and threw the ball a little bit better after that,” Gardenhire said. “Spun it pretty good but he’s a veteran guy, we’ll see how he feels tomorrow and go from there.”

Gardenhire said over the weekend that there were no physical issues with Zimmermann. The pitcher himself said he felt beyond that and did not need to receive a nerve block injection in the offseason, contrary to his past few seasons.

Considering that his outing contained the first intrasquad pitches he’s thrown this camp, Zimmermann is certainly afforded some time. He is entering his 12th season in the majors.

But given his performance with the Tigers — going 25-41 with a 5.61 ERA and 1.431 WHIP in 96 starts — Zimmermann doesn’t have much of it to turn things around.

Still, the Tigers are in no hurry to pass judgment. While the reinforcements are coming, Zimmermann could still provide valuable innings this season. He has put together solid stretches when healthy.

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And already down one man in the starting rotation — lefty Daniel Norris is on the 10-day injured list while he waits for COVID-19 clearance — another vacancy could put the Tigers in an uncomfortable spot early, given the caution with which they plan to use their young pitchers.

“Let’s just get through these things, first,” Gardenhire said, when asked about the starting rotation. “We just started doing this, but yeah, we’re trying to see up a five-man rotation and however best it goes, we’re trying to let it play out on the field and make decisions closer to the season starting.”

The Tigers open the season on July 24 against the Reds in Cincinnati.

Barring an injury this camp, Zimmermann will be in the Tigers’ starting rotation then.

With his contract expiring, how long he stays in it will depend on him reversing a trend that has continued for the past five years, seen again at Comerica Park in an intrasquad game on Sunday.

Contact Anthony Fenech at afenech@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.