Detroit — With a Tigers bullpen wheezing, and with a starter pitching a shutout through five innings, Jordan Zimmermann seemed good for a sixth inning in Monday’s game against the A’s at Comerica Park.
But not in the mind of Tigers pitching coach Chris Bosio. He gets paid to be the Tigers’ pitching steward. And with Zimmermann pitching in only his second big-league game since May 5, and with 79 pitches already on the meter, the decision for Bosio was clear:
Zimmermann had worked long enough in a game the Tigers then led, 1-0, but ultimately lost, 5-4, when the bullpen disintegrated.
“He said, ‘I don’t want push this thing — let’s go to the 'pen, so we went to the pen,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire explained Tuesday, quoting Bosio, as the Tigers stared at a six-game losing skid they hoped to reverse in an evening game against the A’s.
“It was pretty simple.”
To the Tigers, yes. To those who wondered what was wrong with Zimmermann at least giving it a go in the sixth when he then was spinning a four-hit shutout, and when the bullpen is not exactly failsafe, the decision was curious. Especially when Zimmermann said afterward that he would have been happy to press on.
“I felt strong, I felt like I could keep going,” Zimmermann said in what appeared to be pointed commentary. “They just said, ‘We’re going to the bullpen.’
“Nothing I can really say after that point.”
Gardenhire in such situations trusts Bosio’s reads. Pitchers are notorious for saying they’re good for another inning even when they’re not. An ex-pitcher, who understands body language and an athlete’s psyche, is asked to be the final arbiter.
Bosio was firm. Zimmermann is 32 years old. He is a pitcher the Tigers will continue to pay exorbitantly through 2020. He has spent the better part of the past two seasons dealing with sundry injuries.
There were not going to be any thin-ice forays Monday, even when the Tigers bullpen too often is at least as risky.
“I turn to Boz in these situations,” Gardenhire said, emphasizing it’s the pitching coach’s counsel that most matters in deciding when a starter has had enough. “This is a veteran guy (Zimmermann) we’ve got to keep pitching.”
On balance, Zimmermann was fine Monday. His fastball was at its usual 90-92, with a two-seamer that “was diving,” in Gardenhire’s view. Zimmermann’s slider stuck to code. He mixed pitches well.
It was an outing that might suggest a pitcher can yet settle into the innings-eating, quality start, right-hander Zimmermann was expected to be when he signed, three years ago, a $110-million, five-year deal.
“I felt good,” Zimmermann said afterward, although it is rare when he says anything but “I felt good” following a start. “Threw a lot of sliders today. Felt pretty good.”
But the bosses remain bosses. And that could be detected Tuesday when Gardenhire, who was not about to make Zimmermann’s Monday remarks an issue, reminded media that Zimmermann had pitched precious little the past two months. In fact, he has pitched 15 innings since April 30.
“I think he understands where he’s been, too,” Gardenhire said, with clear diplomacy. “Seventy-nine pitches in five innings is a lot of pitches.”
The Tigers were hoping pitching, and hitting, and defense, and whatever intangibles a big-league baseball team can marshal, would unite Tuesday to end a six-game dive.
They appeared to have a solid shot as Blaine Hardy, the remarkable left-hander who wasn’t exactly in the team’s 2018 rotation plans, brandished his 3-0 record and 3.30 ERA against an A’s team that had won seven of its past nine games.