Zimmermann battles early, fades in pivotal outing

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Atlanta — It wasn’t an ideal situation to start with. Having to start a pitcher, albeit a proud veteran, who has made two disastrous starts and served three stints on the disabled list since June 30.

But manager Brad Ausmus’ other choices were sub-optimal as well — rookie Buck Farmer or Anibal Sanchez, who had given up 21 runs in his last 26 innings of work.

So, Ausmus gave the ball to Jordan Zimmermann Saturday night.

“The experience factor,” he said. “He’s pitched in this stadium quite a bit. I thought he looked good the other day (in a three inning relief outing). It looked like the ball was coming out of his hand good. Some of the swings the hitters had off his breaking ball was encouraging, though it would bode well.

“He’s pitched in playoff games. I wasn’t worried about him handling the moment.”

Early on, Zimmermann looked like his old self. He allowed only a double to Dansby Swanson in three scoreless innings.

“He looked just like he did in April,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “The fastball was coming out good. His slider had good movement and he was able to get some outs with the curveball.

“But he might have got a little tired. Rehabbing for two or three months, the legs aren’t there. But he kept us in the ballgame the best he could.”

Things got dicey in the fourth. Zimmermann gave up a two-run home run to Freddie Freeman, on a 3-2 slider than was 16 inches off the ground. According to MLB.com, it was the lowest pitch Freeman ever hit for a home run.

“I threw the pitch I wanted to,” Zimmermann said. “He just golfed it out of there. That happens. He’s a professional hitter, really good at what he does.”

Zimmermann then walked three hitters after the home run. The third, to No. 8 hitter Swanson, was semi-intentional. It loaded the bases, but brought the pitcher, Blair, to the plate.

McCosky: Making a case for Verlander and the Cy Young

Good move. Blair grounded out to end the grueling 37-pitch inning.

Zimmermann’s night was over. 

“I have to take the positives out of it,” he said. “I felt good. I felt strong. I was locating better. But the home run put a damper on things.”

Ausmus said he was hoping Zimmermann would get through five innings.

“He got tired,” Ausmus said. “You can run all the simulated games you want, it’s just not the same. But he wasn’t that far off. He just got tired.”

It likely ends a frustrating first year with the Tigers for Zimmermann. He was the American League Pitcher of the Month in April, but once the groin, neck and shoulder injuries hit, he never got back on track.

He finishes, 9-7 with a 4.87 ERA.

Collins twists ankle

Outfielder Tyler Collins was not available Saturday. He rolled his ankle during batting practice after he stepped awkwardly on a sprinkler head.

Twitter: @cmccosky