Chicago — It was a teaching moment for rookie catcher Grayson Greiner, but on a bigger scale, it was a mostly encouraging first start back for right-hander Jordan Zimmermann.
“Yeah, I felt great,” said Zimmermann, who had been out since May 5 with shoulder impingement. “I had a really good slider and my fastball command was spot-on. My velocity on the fastball was up and my slider was like it used to be with the depth.
“I thought I kept them off-balance for the most part.”
Off-balance and off the bases. Zimmermann was perfect through four innings, 12 straight outs on 53 pitches. His fastball was consistently at 92-93 mph and he struck out four.
“He did an excellent job of spotting up and hitting my mitt and we executed the game plan we talked about going into the game,” Greiner said. “He did a great job of getting them to swing at his pitches.”
Then came the fifth.
The first four White Sox hitters reached and scored and a 5-0 lead became 5-4 in a blink.
“We’ve got to recognize a little quicker that they were swinging at the first pitch,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “There were about four in a row and we didn’t make an adjustment. We’ve got to stop that.”
Matt Davidson singled sharply, then after a broken-bat single by Kevan Smith, Tim Anderson sliced an RBI double down into the corner in right and Charlie Tilson slapped a two-run single.
Four hits, three runs, in five pitches.
The fourth run came home on a sacrifice fly by Trayce Thompson.
“It was my first time in the stretch all game and I was just a little out of whack,” Zimmermann said. “They started swinging early, too, and we didn’t make the adjustment quick enough. But it wasn’t like they really hit me hard.”
Anderson’s double was well-struck, but Zimmermann felt like the wind carried it to the wall.
“If there’s no wind, that’s a routine fly ball,” he said.
Zimmermann also had Tilson picked off in the inning. Tilson broke early and Zimmermann stepped off and had him dead-to-rights at second base — but Ronny Rodriguez dropped the ball.
Still, the White Sox came out in attack mode in the fifth. Normally, Zimmermann can use their aggression to his advantage. This time it didn't work that way.
“I would have loved my young catcher to run out there and say, ‘Hey, they’re jumping first pitch,’” Gardenhire said. “We shouldn’t have to say anything from the dugout.”
Greiner accepted that.
“That might be on me,” he said. “Not seeing that they were just coming out really aggressively in that fifth inning. The first guy got on with a base hit and I just tried to make a pitch to get a ground ball and the guy got one off the end of the bat and got a base hit.
“That's one me, not being able to recognize that they were really aggressive and maybe should have expanded the zone a little bit better there with my pitch-calling.”
It’s a double-edged deal, though, because part of Zimmermann’s strength is his attack-mentality.
“He’s a bulldog,” Greiner said. "He comes right at hitters. He's not going to mess around. He's going to throw strikes and make you beat him. That's part of what makes him such a good pitcher. He attacks the zone. He doesn't beat himself.
“You saw it today, they had to get their hits to score off of him. He didn't give any free 90s up — he didn't hit anybody, didn't walk anybody. You've got to earn it off him.”
All things considered, though, it was a good first start for Zimmermann, and, bonus, the Tigers scrapped and won the game, 7-5.