Detroit — Same story, different night — another non-competitive baseball game played by the Tigers.
If Justin Verlander or Michael Fulmer aren’t starting for the Tigers, the game is likely to follow what has become a very familiar and tedious script.
The Yankees scored five times in the third inning Wednesday and were never hedged, beating the Tigers 10-2. It was the Tigers’ eighth loss in nine games, and in six of those they faced deep, early deficits.
“We need our starters to pitch better,” said manager Brad Ausmus, who is running out of ways to explain the same malady. “We need them to pitch deeper in games and give us a chance to win games. Don’t put us on our heels.”
The last time the Tigers won a game not started by Verlander was Aug. 2. The rest of the rotation since that win, including Fulmer, had gone 0-9 with a 9.28 ERA and a .354 opponents’ batting average before Wednesday.
“It’s not a lot of fun when you are giving up runs,” Ausmus said. “It’s been the same thing — a combination of not throwing strikes and giving up home runs. Usually those things go hand in hand. You don’t get ahead of hitters, you put them in the advantage.”
The last win on a non-Verlander start was delivered by Jordan Zimmermann against the Yankees, who pitched seven shutout innings in the Bronx. That must seem like an eternity ago for Zimmermann.
For the third straight start, Zimmermann allowed seven runs and didn’t get through six innings.
“I’m scuffling right now, scuffling bad,” he said. “The last three outings I’ve done absolutely nothing to help the team win. … I’ve got to get better.”
For the second straight game, it was the booming bat of Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez that got things rolling. He followed up his 493-foot, first-inning bomb Tuesday with another first-inning blast — this one nearly 100 feet shorter but it counted the same.
Like he did against Matthew Boyd, he hit a two-strike, off-speed pitch. Zimmermann's velocity was down. He was struggling to get his fastball to 91 mph.
“I talked to Zimm the other day and he said there wasn’t anything wrong physically,” Ausmus said. “But his velocity was down today and that makes me concerned that the neck is acting up.”
Zimmermann missed most of last season with neck and shoulder injuries. He reiterated after the game that he felt fine physically.
“The ball is just not coming out very good right now,” he said. “I wish I understood why. ... The slider wasn't there for two months and now my fastball has left me, too. It feels like I'm putting a lot of effort into every single pitch and it's not coming out free and easy right now."
Sanchez would add a two-run single in the five-run third inning. The man comes to eat in the month of August. He has 10 home runs and 21 RBIs this month. It was last August that he burst on the scene with 11 homers and 21 RBIs.
The Yankees scratched out five hits off Zimmermann in the third, including an RBI double by Aaron Judge and an RBI single by Didi Gregorius.
Gregorius added a solo home run in the fifth.
“Obviously, when you go through something like this, you aren’t going to be as confident,” Zimmermann said. “My command right now, I have no clue where it went or what the problem is. I have to go back to the drawing board and keep searching.”
It’s been a catastrophic stretch for Zimmermann. He’s the first Tigers pitcher since Tommy Bridges in 1935 to allow seven runs or more in three straight starts. He’s allowed 21 runs and 27 hits in 13 2/3 innings.
Worse, going back to last year, his ERA is well over 6.00. It’s fair to wonder if he will ever find what he’s searching for.
“I’d like to think it’s still in there because we’ve seen flashes of it,” Ausmus said. “He has a track record coming in, but at some point, we need to see something similar to the old Jordan Zimmermann.”
But Zimmermann is only part of the pitching problem — sans Verlander.
Since beating the Pirates 10-0 on Aug. 9 (Verlander), the Tigers have allowed 96 runs in 12 games (eight per game). They’ve allowed more runs than any American League team since the All-Star break. In fact, the Tigers have allowed 10 or more runs in eight games since the break.
In the last eight games, they’ve yielded 16 home runs.
“It’s a little surprising,” Ausmus said. “Recently, other than Fulmer and Verlander — and both of them had rough starts in Texas — the starters have had trouble getting into the sixth inning. And then you tack on our inexperienced bullpen is getting taxed because of it — it’s not a recipe for winning.”
Chad Bell took over for Zimmermann and gave up a run in the sixth (single by Ronald Torreyes, who had four hits), seventh (home run by Chase Headley) and eighth (unearned, RBI single by Aaron Hicks).
After the game, Bell was sent back to Triple-A Toledo because the Tigers needed to add a fresh arm. Right-hander Zac Reininger was signed to the 40-man roster and called up.
“Nobody feels worse for Chad Bell than me,” Zimmermann said. “Obviously, I have to do a better job. He’s been pitching great and because our bullpen is so beat up, he’s got to go down. I hope we see him back soon.”
The Tigers runs came on solo home runs — Ian Kinsler off Yankees starter Luis Severino, and Jose Iglesias, with two outs in the ninth off Tommy Kahnle.