By: Will Burchfield
Chris Bosio’s most immediate and most daunting challenge with the Tigers will be salvaging a failed investment: Jordan Zimmermann.
Detroit’s new pitching coach may be just the man for the job.
Bosio is credited with helping Jake Arrieta turn his career around when the Cubs acquired him from the Orioles in 2013. In two years, Arrieta went from a castoff to a Cy Young.
That kind of arc isn’t in the cards for Zimmermann, but Bosio sees a lot of similarities between the two pitchers.
“Jake Arrieta reminds me a lot of a guy that I saw when he was pitching with a Division-3 program in Wisconsin — Jordan Zimmermann,” Bosio said in his introductory conference call with Detroit-area reporters.
Bosio, who spent six years as the Cubs pitching coach, also played a key role in the rise of Kyle Hendricks from eighth-round draft pick to ERA champ. He got the best out of Hendricks and Arrieta, he said, by developing personal relationships with them.
“It’s getting to know the individual and letting them be themselves. I’m not – and it’s a cliché – but I’m not a cooking-cutting pitching coach,” said Bosio. “I think you have to let these guys be themselves and find the things that they like to do.”
He’s looking forward to taking this approach with Zimmermann.
“Am I excited to work with Jordan? Yes I am. I understand he’s had some health issues, but getting to know the individual is tremendous. And then trying different things, seeing what his capabilities are, trying to help some things that he’s not so good at but making sure (he’s) pitching with (his) strengths and attacking the weaknesses of the hitter relentlessly,” Bosio said.
In Bosio’s estimation, the strengths of Zimmermann and Arrieta are the same. He can still recall the first time he saw both of them pitch. In the case of Arrieta, one performance with the Orioles stands out.
“I believe it was three innings and eight strikeouts. He was throwing his breaking ball on both sides of the plate, fastball both sides of the plate, not only pitching north and south but east and west, being able to get the ball in on the hands and underneath the barrel where you need to. There was a lot of swing-and-miss and soft contact,” said Bosio.
Arrieta’s natural talent was never in doubt, even when he struggled with the Orioles. Bosio helped him harness it with the Cubs. Zimmermann, once a Cy Young candidate with the Nationals, is trying to rediscover his touch with the Tigers.
Bosio first came across Zimmermann about 10 years ago while on MLB leave due to a sickness in his family.
“I got away from the game and got offered an opportunity to be a part-time pitching coach at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and I saw Zimmermann pitch against us in a regional game. Threw a one-hitter with 16 strikeouts, doing much the same thing that I saw Jake do on that day (with the Orioles),” said Bosio.
Zimmermann was very much on the rise back then. He would soon be selected in the second round of the 2007 draft by the Nationals, where he became one of the most reliable starters in baseball and laid the foundation for the five-year, $110 million contract he secured from the Tigers in 2015.
In Detroit, his career has suddenly tumbled. Neck, shoulder and groin injuries hindered him in 2016 — while also providing cover for his downturn — and things took a turn for the worse in 2017 when Zimmermann, ostensibly at full health, surrendered an MLB-high 108 earned runs. He struggled with his mechanics throughout the season. He also admitted he lost confidence.
Perhaps that’s where Bosio can make a difference.
“He’s been a huge role player for what I’ve been able to do,” Arrieta told NBC Sports during his 2015 Cy Young season. “He played for a long time — (11) years. He had a reputation as a no-nonsense type of guy when he was on the mound, pretty much exactly the way I like to depict myself.
“He was intense. So all these little characteristics he possessed — and still possesses — are things that I can use to my advantage.”
Bosio unlocked the ace in Arrieta. He’ll try to recover the ace in Zimmermann. The Tigers owe the 31-year-old righty $22 million per season through 2020 and would like to think some value remains in that investment.
Maybe it’s as simple as a mechanical adjustment. Maybe it’s as fundamental as getting Zimmermann back to his roots. If Bosio can identify the issue, he’ll do his best to fix it. Then it will be on Zimmermann to put the changes into effect.
“The players are the ones that go out there and try these different things. There’s trust, there’s belief in themselves,” Bosio said. “If those players believe in something, that’s a very, very powerful thing…because then you’re really going to unleash the animal and watch these guys go out there and get after it.”