'Good night': Zimmermann ziplocks Rangers with gem

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Jordan Zimmermann struck out a season-high 11 in Friday's win over the Rangers.

Detroit — Remember that two-time All-Star pitcher the Tigers signed to a $110 million contract before the 2016 season, the guy who was the American League Pitcher of the Month in April of 2016? Remember him?

He’s been showing up with a lot more regularity lately.

Jordan Zimmermann is healthy, pitching as well as he has in two years and he painted an absolute masterpiece Friday night at Comerica Park.

"I don't think he ever left," manager Ron Gardenhire said after the Zimmermann struck out 11 and went eight strong innings in the Tigers' 3-1 win over the Rangers, a game that took just two hours and five minutes to play.

"I think it's all about health and when he's healthy, he can do these things. If you saw him in Washington, you know he was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball."

BOX SCORE: Tigers 3, Rangers 1 

Zimmermann gave up a home run to Shin-Soo Choo on his second pitch of the game  a 436-foot bomb into the shrubbery in center field. After that, nada. He allowed just three singles after the first inning. The 11 strikeouts are the most he's recorded in a game since donning the Olde English D, and the most since Sept 28, 2014.

"That's why we brought him here," Nick Castellanos said. "That's the guy he was in Washington and that's who he was in the beginning when we first got him. He's had some unfortunate events, health-wise, but he's a trooper and he takes the ball whenever he can."

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In Zimmermann's five previous starts, the last three after he missed a month with shoulder impingement, he had given up just four earned runs in 29 innings with 23 strikeouts and five walks. Opponents were hitting .165 off him with a paltry .202 on-base percentage.

So, Friday's performance was a continuation, not a flash.

"Everything," Zimmermann said when asked what he had working Friday. "The slider is the best it's been maybe in my whole career. It was really good. I rarely missed with it. The curveball was good, too. When the curve is good, it keeps the hitters off my slider.

"I've told you guys, if I am out there and I've got both my curveball and slider working, it usually is a good night."

Of his 96 pitches, he threw 32 sliders and 23 curveballs. He got 15 swings and misses and 21 called strikes. The average exit velocity on the balls the Rangers put in play was just 78 mph. His command of all his pitches was precise and he had the hitters guessing incorrectly most of the game.

Case in point: He froze Adrian Beltre with a 2-2 fastball to end the first inning; Beltre expecting the slider. Then he froze Rougned Odor with a 2-2 curveball to start the second inning; Odor thinking fastball because of how Zimmermann fanned Beltre.

It was a masterful performance.

"They like to hit home runs," Zimmermann said. "Playing in their ballpark, their swings are built for fly balls and home runs, so it doesn't really pay to go inside to power-hitter left-handers, and they have some righties who hit for power, too.

"I just tried to stay away with everything."

Choo hit an inside fastball.

"It was the last fastball in I threw," Zimmermann said with a laugh.

It was the first home run he'd allowed in 29 innings.

"(Catcher James) McCann and Zimm had a great plan today, spinning the ball and keeping the hitters off-balance," Gardenhire said. "They read the hitters very well, moving the fastball in and out.

"And he didn't throw anything down the middle, really. He spotted the ball and that's what that guy can do."

ZImmermann needed to be that good to outduel 45-year-old wonder Bartolo Colon. Seeking to become the winningest Latin-born pitcher in Major League history, Colon allowed just five hits through eight innings.

"That old man took me to school tonight," said Castellanos, who went hitless in four at-bats. "He was bringing stuff back out over the plate, then he'd throw it in under my hands. He's got deception, man, and he took advantage of my aggressiveness."

Colon became the second-oldest pitcher (Jamie Moyer) to pitch a complete game in the modern era. 

"It's just amazing to sit there and watch him throw the ball," Gardenhire said. "It's like a whiffle ball." 

Two of the hits he allowed were home runs, though, and that was the difference.

McCann hit a two-run home run to left field in the second inning. It was his first home run since May 28  a span of 88 plate appearances without one. It was his first extra-base hit in 19 games, a span of 68 plate appearances.

JaCoby Jones posted an insurance run, hitting one 424 feet into the visitor’s bullpen in left-center. It was his seventh home run.

Zimmermann wanted to go out for the ninth inning and finish his masterpiece. It made for an entertaining moment in the Tigers' dugout in the bottom of the eighth inning.

"I just turned my back (to pitching coach Rick Anderson and Gardenhire) for a while," Zimmermann said, smiling. "Andy said, 'Do you want to turn around and look at me, or not?' 

"I looked at him and he had his hand out (to shake it, meaning his day was over). I said, 'You are sure about this?' He said, 'Yeah, you are at 96 pitches and Joe (Jimenez) is fresh.' What are you going to do? They had already made the decision. I am glad it worked out."

Interim closer Jimenez give up a leadoff single to Choo in the top of the ninth, but then dispatched Elvis Andrus, Nomar Mazara and Beltre to earn his third save.

"I just feel really good, health-wise," Zimmermann said. "That's the big thing. When I feel good, usually I pitch like this most of the time. I'm going to have a few bad games mixed in, but I will have more good than bad."