Kansas City, Mo. — You didn’t expect him to be giddy about it, did you? That’s not really in his DNA.
“It’s just a number,” Jordan Zimmermann said after extending his scoreless innings streak to 19.1 innings Wednesday, pitching 6.1 scoreless in the Tigers' 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals. “I just try to go out there and put up zeros and keep the game close. I try to go with a bend-but-don't-break mentality and I've been able to do that the last few games.”
According to Elias, he is the first pitcher in Tigers history to make three straight scoreless starts of at least five innings to start a season. He’s also the first to begin his Tigers career with 19.1 consecutive scoreless innings since Doug Bair did it in 1983.
“He did a great job,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He pounds the strike zone. He’s not afraid of anybody or any situation. He comes right at you.”
Ian Kinsler provided the offensive punch. He had a two-out double to score the first run off Royals starter Ian Kennedy in the third. Then he delivered what ended up being the winning run in the top of the ninth — another two-out RBI, this one a single.
The second run came courtesy of Victor Martinez’s 1,000th career RBI. His two-out, opposite field single scored Kinsler from second in the sixth.
Things got tense in the bottom of the ninth after Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez hit back-to-back home runs off closer Francisco Rodriguez. But, after walking Jarrod Dyson and Alcides Escobar, Rodriguez struck out Mike Moustakas to end the game.
“Pitching won us this game,” Ausmus said. “It got a little dicey. That’s not how you want it to go all the time. But K-Rod was able to get the final out.”
Zimmermann threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters. His fastball was well-placed and firm, at 92 and 93 mph. His slider, as usual, was his money pitch. He broke at least four bats with it. And his curveball was better than it was in his first two starts.
“My stuff was real good tonight,” said Zimmermann, who improves to 3-0. “I was in a few jams, got a little lucky and got out of them. But I had pretty good stuff tonight.”
He had seven strikeouts in the first four innings. He struck out former Tiger Omar Infante with two on and two out in the second inning. He gave up two singles to start the third, but again struck out Infante.
Then he got a very unconventional double play to end the inning. It was one of several sparkling defensive plays made by the double-play combo of Kinsler and shortstop Jose Iglesias.
“Those guys are one of the better combos in the league, I think,” Zimmermann said. “Anything on the ground it seems like they can get to it and turn a double play or make a spectacular play. And they were able to do that tonight."
In the fifth, speedy Jarrod Dyson hit a ground ball to Kinsler at second. Knowing he couldn’t turn the double play conventionally, he ran the runner at first (Salvador Perez) back toward the bag, and then threw to first.
The Tigers had Perez hung up between first and second, but Gordon, who was on third, broke for home. Iglesias, who was chasing Perez back toward first, smartly stopped and made a strong throw home to get Gordon.
“That was a heads-up play by Kinsler to force Perez back,” Ausmus said. “But it’s a fine line because Dyson is so fast, you have to make sure you get him at first.”
Zimmermann was appreciative, even if he didn’t actually see the play.
“I couldn't really see it,” he said. “I was running around on the infield someplace, probably not in the right position. But it all worked out.”
Zimmermann made some trouble for himself in the sixth. A two-out infield single by Lorenzo Cain kept the inning alive. Then Zimmermann couldn’t find the handle on a come-backer from Hosmer.
That brought up Kendrys Morales.
“It wasn't too dicey,” Zimmermann said. “I feel I match up pretty well with Morales. But I don't know what happened on the chopper to me. As soon as I bobbled it I knew I had to hustle up — and that's when you have all sorts of problems.”
He calmly got Morales to ground out to second.
“He's unbelievable,” Miguel Cabrera said of Zimmermann. “He attacked the zone. He's great. He's aggressive. It's unbelievable. We enjoy playing behind him.You have to pay attention, because he pitch quick. Pitch, pitch, pitch. He keeps you in the game. That's good.”
Zimmermann, who threw 105 pitches, needed help to get out of the seventh. Perez — who is 5-for-6 with two homers and six RBIs in the series — doubled with one out and Infante reached on an infield single.
But Mark Lowe bailed him out, getting Dyson and Escobar to ground out, and Justin Wilson pitched a scoreless eighth.
“He’s worked that way in every start this year,” Kinsler said of Zimmermann. “He works quick. He uses all his pitches, throws them for strikes and commands the zone. He’s not scared of anybody. He works quick and that helps the defense. I mean, you can’t ask much more from a pitcher.”