Cleveland — The clubhouse stayed closed for nearly a half hour after the Tigers took a third straight loss to the Cleveland Indians, 5-1, on Wednesday. And when the media was finally ushered into the manager’s office, Ron Gardenhire looked exhausted and downhearted.
“This was a tough night for me,” he said. “We lost. I don’t like the player movement stuff and we had a very, very scary moment. Not a fun night at the ballpark.”
The night started with starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann taking a line drive off his face. It was his seventh pitch of the game, a 91-mph fastball, and it was lined, with an exit velocity of 105.6 mph, off the right side of his face by Cleveland's Jason Kipnis.
“I didn’t know what happened because I heard two noises,” catcher James McCann said. “Everyone kept saying it hit him flush. But I guess his right shoulder is pretty sore, so it nicked his shoulder.
“That probably saved him, to be honest with you. It was scary.”
Zimmermann went down hard and stayed face down on the mound for several minutes. But there was no blood and the initial report called it a bruised right jaw.
“I saw it coming for a second,” Zimmermann said in the clubhouse after he’d cleared concussion protocol and had X-rays taken at a nearby hospital. “Then I felt it and I went down. I felt all my teeth were there and my jaw wasn’t all peeled in like the first time it happened.”
He had his jaw fractured by a batted ball when he was in college in 2007. The drive by Kipnis hit him in the same spot.
“The first time I got a couple of plates and 11 screws put in it,” Zimmermann said. “The doctor told me I’d never break my jaw in that place again. I put it to the test tonight and everything came back fine.”
That was the only good news to come out of this night for the Tigers. Zimmermann, besides a severely swollen right side of his face, might not miss a start.
“He was joking around and screwing around, just being Zimm,” Gardenhire said. “Everything is good. We believe that it probably won’t even need a DL stint. He’ll probably make his next start.
“We are very lucky. He’s very lucky.”
Kipnis, who was out at first when the ball caromed to Miguel Cabrera at first, stayed down on one knee while Zimmermann was being tended to.
“You never want that,” Kipnis said. “Everyone’s out there competing. You want it to be decided by talent and skill and all the other stuff. You don’t want it to be because someone got injured or anything like that, so you never root for anyone to get injured.
“It was a scary moment, tough SOB just to walk off like that. He’s got a strong jaw.”
With Zimmermann going out after two batters, the Tigers bullpen had to eat 8 1/3 innings. The Indians banged out six hits and four runs off Daniel Norris in the fourth to take control.
But with Tigers facing 11 games in the next 11 days including a doubleheader on April 20, a move will be made Thursday to add a pitcher. To make room, the Tigers sent struggling left fielder Mikie Mahtook down to Triple-A Toledo.
“It was a tough decision and not fun at all,” Gardenhire said. “We need to get him swinging. This is going to help him, but it doesn’t make me feel very good. Because I really like that young man. I like his enthusiasm. I know he’s spinning a little bit offensively trying to find his swing.
“It’ll come. He did it last year and he’ll do it again.”
Mahtook, who struggled in spring training and is hitting .129 in 31 at-bats so far this season, is looking at this as a hitting rehab assignment.
“I am not playing well so I will go down there and work on my swing and I’ll be back quick,” he said. “That’s kind of what they want me to do. It’s all up to me. Go down there, play well and be right back.
“I just haven’t gotten comfortable yet. It’s 30-something at-bats; it’s still real early and I’m not far off. I am going to come out of it. I have had my struggles. I struggled last year and I came out of it. I’ll keep plugging away and grind my way through it.”
In the meantime, Gardenhire said he will divvy up playing time in left field between JaCoby Jones, Victor Reyes and Niko Goodrum. The bench is reduced to three players.
"Right now we just need another pitcher," Gardenhire said. "We're still worried a little bit about Zimm. Everything checked out but he's not going to be feeling very good. We understand that. So we're going to protect ourselves and get another arm in here."
The Tigers bats were stymied once again, this time by Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco. He pitched a complete-game, three-hitter — and all three hits were from one Tigers hitter.
Center fielder Leonys Martin doubled to lead off the game and was stranded. He singled and got picked off (caught stealing) in the third. Then, in the sixth, he launched a 421-foot home run to right field.
It was just the third home run hit by the Tigers in 11 games this season.
The rest of the lineup went 0-for-25 against Carrasco.
“It was a good day for me, but at the end of the day, it’s about the Detroit Tigers,” Martin said. “It’s not about myself. And we’re going to be fine. We have been facing some pretty good pitchers, but we’re going to be OK.”
The Tigers have managed two runs in the three games in Cleveland.