'Good baseball': Zimmermann locks in, Tigers erupt in romp

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers' Mikie Mahtook, right, celebrates with Victor Martinez after hitting a two-run home run in the third inning on Monday.

Kansas City, Mo. — There were two explosions Monday night.

The first was provided by the Tigers' offense.

Nick Castellanos launched a 432-foot, two-run home run into the batter’s eye in dead center field in the second inning and Mikie Mahtook trumped him with a 445-foot, two-run shot into the waterfall in left-center field, powering the Tigers’ 10-2 romp over the Royals in the first of four games at Kauffman Stadium.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 10, Royals 2 

“Was that how far it was?” Mahtook said. “I knew I hit it well. I just put a good swing on it and it went out. I think I have that (power) in the tank, it’s just one of those things where I don’t swing for that. It just happens.”

Ian Kinsler hit the first pitch of the game over center fielder Lorenzo Cain’s head for a double. He would triple in the second and third innings  eight total bases in three at-bats in three innings.

Victor Martinez had three hits and knocked in three runs. He had a bases-loaded walk in the first, a two-out RBI single in the fourth and an RBI single in the ninth. Mahtook had three hits and Alex Presley, a late entry in the game, had two hits and scored twice.

It was the Tigers third straight win.

“Just playing good baseball,” Mahtook said. “We’re getting guys over and getting them in. We’re playing smart baseball and when you do that, the game rewards you.”

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The second explosion was on Twitter, which blew a gasket after the Tigers went out in order in the top of the sixth inning. After a brief delay, Presley came trotting out of the dugout to man right field. J.D. Martinez, who started in right, had been pulled from the game.

And since Martinez is one of the hottest names on the trade market, the buzz was immediate  had he been traded?

Meanwhile, the Nationals had pulled one of their top prospects  center fielder Victor Robles  out of the game at roughly the same time. So the speculation ramped up even higher. Even Martinez’s mother texted him wondering if he’d been traded.

Pump the breaks.

Martinez was removed because his lower back had tightened and Robles was pulled because of a base-running mistake. No deal.

“He just told me it had tightened up and when he took swings in the cage, it didn’t feel any better,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “We don’t think it’s anything major. There is a good chance he will play tomorrow.”

Martinez told reporters afterward that he thought dehydration may have been an issue. It was a dense 92 degrees at game time, with the heat index pushing 98.

“He described what he was feeling and said he didn’t think he could go,” Ausmus said. “Kevin (Rand, trainer) looked at him and didn’t think it was anything long term. But it was last minute. It was after the third out.”

The Tigers were up 7-0 at the time, so there was no reason to risk keeping him in the game.

“If the score had been 2-2, he’d have stayed in,” Ausmus said.

There is no need to put an asterisk on Jordan Zimmermann’s outing Monday because of the run support, because he was brilliant. It was easily his best start of the season. He scattered seven hits  six singles and a double  and tied a season-high with seven strikeouts in 6.2 innings.

“I don’t know if you can get more impressive than that,” said Mahtook, who had a nice view of Zimmermann’s stuff from center field. “At one point I turned and looked at the scoreboard and it said he’d thrown 50 pitches and just six balls. He was around the zone and his stuff was moving, sharp.”

He was a strike-throwing machine. Of his 97 pitches, 79 were strikes. That’s an 81 percent strike rate, the highest by a Tigers starter at least as far back as 1988. He had 10 0-2 counts in the game.

“They’re a pretty aggressive team and I was throwing strikes,” said Zimmermann, who in five career starts against the Royals has a 1.42 ERA. “I looked up in the fourth or fifth inning there and saw how many balls I’d thrown and I couldn’t hardly believe it.”

Set up by the precise command of his fastball, Zimmermann was able to get the Royals hitters to chase both his slider and curveball. He induced 13 swings and misses (six by the slider) and got 16 called strikes.

“I think I was setting (the slider) up pretty good,” he said. “I was able throw inside to left-handers and right-handers and when I do that, it’s makes the slider much better. I had pretty good command of all four pitches. It was just one of those nights when it’s fun to be out there.”

He pitched six shutout innings, then he hit Alcides Escobar on the wrist leading off the seventh on an 0-2 pitch. Escobar left the game, replaced by Ramon Torres. Zimmermann got the next two batters, but gave up a first-pitch double to the right-center field gap to Whit Merrifield, scoring Torres and ending his night.

It was an encouraging bounce-back effort after he had struggled mightily in his three starts prior to the All-Star break (14 runs in 12.2 innings).

“I was working on a few things, but the time off really helped,” Zimmermann said. “I felt much stronger out there and I was able to locate. I did tweak a few things, though. I just hope I continue to pitch well.”

Twitter: @cmccosky