Kansas City, Mo. — Manager Ron Gardenhire was asked if was intrigued to see Jordan Zimmermann get back on the mound on Tuesday.
“Intrigued?” he said. “Am I intrigued? I don’t know if I’m intrigued. But I am anxious to see him back out there.”
The anxiety comes from two sources: It will be 13 days since Zimmermann last pitched and, over the All-Star break, he got two shots of cortisone in his back.
“He feels great and he’s been throwing it great,” Gardenhire said. “Like he said, this was a precaution. It helped him in the first half and said he’d do it again.”
Zimmermann took the nerve-blocking injections before spring training and, although he missed a month with a shoulder impingement, the back and neck stiffness that plagued him for two years didn’t return.
“Everything is good,” Zimmermann said. “Everything went as planned. Went in, had a couple of quick shots and they sent me on my way.”
Zimmermann didn’t throw for four days, allowing the cortisone to work its magic. But he’s been back to his regular throwing program with no problems.
“It’s a pretty simple process,” he said. “They put some cortisone in there, in a couple of spots I really needed it, numbed it up pretty good. But it feels good now.”
Zimmermann was pitching well. In his last seven starts, he has gone 3-1 with a 1.85 ERA and opponents hitting just .200 against him. And he returns against a team he’s had success against. In seven games (six starts) against the Royals, he’s 4-0 with a 1.48 ERA — which leads all active pitchers (40 innings minimum).
His 0.98 WHIP is third lowest among active pitchers against the Royals.
The Tigers strike out a lot. There’s no hiding that.
In the 33 games before Monday, they’d whiffed 258 times. On the season, they rank eighth in the American League with 830. With runners in scoring position, they have struck out 208 times, fifth most in the league.
“Sometimes you can make it a bigger issue,” Gardenhire said. “If we talk about it, it puts more pressure on them. We try to take the pressure off of them. We talk about making contact and putting the ball in play, shortening the swing and all of those things.”
The strikeouts are partly a product of the Tigers’ young lineup. Players like Niko Goodrum, John Hicks and JaCoby Jones, all given a night off Monday, are playing their first full seasons as everyday players.
“You get two strikes on you, it becomes a little bit of a battle,” Gardenhire said. “You have to battle. And right now, we are still swinging for the fences. We’re still letting it go. If we were a home run-hitting team, I get that. But we’re not.
“We need to shorten up and start shooting some balls the other way and using the whole field. I see JaCoby trying to do that. Guys are trying. We just have to get better at it.”
When Gardenhire got to the visiting manager’s office at Kauffman Stadium Monday, the first thing he noticed was somebody had put a cut-out of his face on a framed picture of former Twins manager Tom Kelly.
He also noticed that the screen-saver on the desktop computer was a blown-up photo of Gardenhire getting ejected from a game when he was managing the Twins.
“My picture was all over this place,” he said.
It was the work of the Twins' public relations director and manager Paul Molitor. The Twins had played the Royals over the weekend. They knew their old boss was coming in next and they decorated the place for him.
“The best was, Molly (Molitor) left me a message, ‘Watch out for the shampoo,’” Gardenhire said. “Molly is old, he’s older than I am (by less than a year), and he doesn’t know that I don’t have any hair. I don’t use shampoo. So take that, Molly!”
Tigers at Royals
First pitch: 8:10 p.m. Tuesday, Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
RHP Burch Smith (0-1, 5.98), Royals: This will be the third straight fill-in start for the 28-year-old rookie, whom the Royals took in the Rule 5 draft. He was a top prospect for the Padres and got his first taste of the big leagues in 2013. But he was traded in the Wil Myers deal and missed two seasons with injuries.
RHP Jordan Zimmermann (4-1, 3.71), Tigers: This will be an interesting start. His last start was July 11. He was pushed back because he got another nerve-blocking injection in his back — a precautionary move — during the All-Star break. It will be nearly two weeks since he’s thrown a competitive pitch (13 days).