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Zimmermann's relief role provides 'silver lining'

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Jordan Zimmermann tossed scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth before giving up a single run in the ninth.

Detroit — What is the saying? Necessity is the mother of invention?

The plan was for Jordan Zimmermann to throw another simulated game on Monday. Still trying to get his arm strength and pitching mechanics back in form after a series of injuries and three stints on the disabled list, it didn’t appear he was going to be fit to pitch another meaningful game in the regular season.

The hope was, if the Tigers found a way to get into the playoffs and make a run, perhaps he could help.

Everything changed Sunday.

The Royals beat up on five different Tigers pitchers and built an 11-6 lead after six innings. Manager Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Rich Dubee saw an opportunity to test Zimmermann in live action and he took full advantage of it.

He pitched scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth before giving up a single run in the ninth. And now there is a chance he will make a start next weekend in Atlanta.

“This was better than a sim game because you can see how hitters are reacting to (his pitches),” Ausmus said. “We had talked to him a couple of days ago about being available out of the pen if it was a lopsided game, getting him in there for a few innings and then we can see how hitters are reacting to his stuff.”

Zimmermann’s fastball was steady at 92-93 mph, which is where it was in April and May before the groin, neck and shoulder injuries hit. His slider was as sharp as it’s been in months and he was mixing in an effective curveball.

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“He seemed to have better command than he had in his previous sim games,” Ausmus said. “I thought the velocity was good. That first inning, he looked real crisp. So there's a silver lining to the game.”

Zimmermann threw 35 pitches, 30 for strikes, an indication that he was able to repeat his delivery. He struck out four.

Asked if he would consider starting Zimmermann in five days, Ausmus said, “We would definitely consider that.”

He would replace either Boyd or Buck Farmer, who starts Monday against the Indians.

What clicked?

Zimmermann is hungry to make one more start.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “I've been busting my tail the last couple of months trying to get this figured out. It's been a tough, frustrating year for me. Today was a good day and a step in the right direction. I hope I can get the ball in five days. We'll see.”

Zimmermann’s last simulated game went poorly. His mechanics were inconsistent and it looked at that point like he wouldn’t pitch the rest of the regular season. But, he said being able to pitch in actual game situations was the tonic he needed.

“It's tough in a sim game when you are facing the same four hitters every inning,” he said. “They are trying to get hits and swinging at the first pitch. You can't really set guys up. The best way to get out of something, a little funk or whatever it is, is to go out and face big league hitters.”

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Zimmermann was asked about his confidence level.

“If you would have asked me before today, I probably would have said it's as low as it could be,” he said. “But after going through this lineup and punching some guys out and getting some weak contact, obviously it's gone up quite a bit.”

No celebration

The last thing the Tigers want to deal with is having to watch the Indians celebrate a Central Division title in their yard. The Indians, who come in for four games Monday, have a magic number of one.

“I've seen it before,” Ausmus said. “You don't want to see them celebrate on your field, there's no question. We're going to do everything we can to see if we can keep them from celebrating on our field.

“I think our motivation is to get to the playoffs right now. That's the real motivation. I guess that one (keeping the Indians from having a party) is a secondary.”

Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia agreed.

“Obviously don’t want that to happen,” he said. “We want to be the one to come and win our division. A lot has to happen for that to happen but we’re going to take it one game at a time.”

Twitter: @cmccosky

On deck: Indians

Series: Four games, Monday-Thursday, Comerica Park, Detroit

First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 1:10 p.m. Thursday

TV/radio: Monday-Wednesday, FSD/97.1; Thursday, FSD, ESPN/97.1

Series probables: Monday — RHP Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.11) vs. RHP Buck Farmer (0-0, 4.07); Tuesday — RHP Mike Clevinger (2-2, 4.65) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.21); Wednesday — RHP Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (11-7, 2.95); Thursday — TBA vs. LHP Daniel Norris (3-2, 3.59).

Scouting report

Kluber, Indians: He’s pitched himself back into the Cy Young race this season. In his three starts against the Tigers, he’s 3-0 and has allowed five runs (four in his last start Sept. 16) in 24 innings, with 24 strikeouts.

Farmer, Tigers: His first start in Minnesota last week got interrupted in the third inning. He survived some control issues in the first inning and had seemingly settled in when the rains came.