Toronto — Truth be told, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire was facing a Catch-22 situation Thursday as his starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann was one out, one strike, away from taking a perfect game into the eighth inning.
Now that the 2-0, 10-inning victory is in the books, Gardenhire can openly say that part of him was a little bit relieved that Blue Jays’ Teoscar Hernandez rolled a single up the middle with two outs in the seventh to break up Zimmermann’s bid.
“I was just nervous,” Gardenhire said. “I enjoy those kinds of games, but on the flip side, as a manager you don’t want to see a guy trying to go through nine innings on the first start of the year.
"So when he gave up a hit, it kind of relaxed me.”
Zimmermann, who is fully healthy after dealing with an assortment of neck, shoulder and core muscle injuries the last three years, finished the seventh inning at 70 pitches. He said after the game his pitch limit was 90 pitches.
He had been up and down seven times, something he hadn’t done all spring. So, before Hernandez’s single, Gardenhire was staring at the very unpopular likelihood of having to pull Zimmermann with his perfect game intact.
“You say he was at 70 pitches,” Gardenhire said. “Well, he threw 50 pitches in the bullpen before the game. He threw another 10 pitches between every inning. So you start to think about how many pitches he really throws.
“Not all of them at full-bore, but it’s a lot of pitches. And with some of the health things Zimm’s gone through, I didn’t mind getting him out of the there.”
Gardenhire has pulled a pitcher with a no-hitter still intact. It was in August 2010 when he was managing Minnesota. Right-hander Kevin Slowey, who had been scratched from his previous start with a shoulder issue, was at 106 pitches after seven innings.
Gardenhire pulled him.
“I got my butt booed off the field,” he said. “But what do you want me to do? It’s my watch and it’s his career. It’s not just this game. Yeah, he wanted to go back out there and try to get a no-hitter — everybody does.
“But he just came off the shoulder injury.”
Between innings, they showed Gardenhire’s face on the big scoreboard and the fans booed him again. And when the first Oakland hitter singled off the relief pitcher in the eighth, they booed him one last time.
“At the end of the day, I didn’t care because it was my job — and his parents would thank me for it — to protect the kid so he could pitch more,” Gardenhire said. “If I let him go out there and throw 110-115 pitches and he almost gets a no-hitter, and now he’s down for another two weeks — that does nobody any good.
“These are the decisions you have to make as a manager and you try to do what’s right for the player, the ballclub and the kid’s career. I take that very seriously.”
Harnessing the nerves
Spencer Turnbull is a rookie, but he’s already been in the big-league stew a couple of times. He made his debut last September in hostile Progressive Field, holding a lead with a clean seventh inning against the Indians. He faced the Brewers, still fighting for their playoff seeding, in front of a rowdy, sellout crowd at Miller Park.
And now he’s going to make his first start as a full-fledged member of the Tigers rotation on Saturday. Might be a little tough falling asleep Friday night.
“I’m sure it’ll be similar with the nerves and adrenaline and stuff,” Turnbull said. “I’ve never had an opening series start. I imagine it’ll be similar to how I felt last year. That should help me a little bit, knowing I’ll be a little extra amped.”
What he takes into the game with him is confidence from a strong spring, where he pitched his way into the rotation even before Michael Fulmer was lost to Tommy John surgery. He pitched well enough to earn the No. 3 spot in the rotation.
“He’ll be amped up and hopefully, he’ll be able to slow it down,” Gardenhire said. “He’s pitched in the big leagues now. He pitched in Milwaukee in probably as big a game as there could be for us last year, and he handled it.
“He might be over-amped, who knows? The only way to find out is put him out there.”
Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson are convinced Turnbull is ready.
“He has a pretty good head on his shoulders,” Gardenhire said. “He’s a little nuts like most pitchers, which is a good thing. I trust him with the ball. He is one of our best pitchers.”
Turnbull, whose father is in town, plans to have a quiet dinner and an early night Friday night.
“It’s a dream come true just to have this opportunity,” he said. “You never know, it could be here one moment and gone the next. You just have to take it all in stride and enjoy every second of it. That’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Franklin Perez shut down
This is starting to feel like a modern adaptation of a Greek tragedy.
Tigers No. 3 prospect Franklin Perez has been shut down again. The team announced Friday the right-hander will miss four to six weeks with shoulder tendinitis — a gut punch for both the player and the club.
Perez, a power-armed, 21-year-old, right-handed pitcher, was the crown jewel for the Tigers when they traded Justin Verlander to the Astros on Aug. 31, 2017. The other two prospects they got back in that trade -- catcher Jake Rogers (Double-A) and center fielder Daz Cameron (Triple-A) are ascending quickly through the system, while a series of injuries keeps setting Perez back.
He was limited to seven appearances last season first with a right lat strain and then shoulder soreness. Still, he was invited to big-league camp this spring and came in bigger and stronger physically.
But again he was limited to one inning of Grapefruit League action because of a stomach illness and a spasm in his scapula.
But when he did throw, he impressed. He was drawing rave reviews last week from Tigers player development staffers for his work in minor-league games. His fastball was hitting 98 mph consistently and he was commanding his secondary pitches.
He was expected to begin the season in High-A Lakeland, but when the weather warmed, the hope was to move him quickly to Double-A Erie. Now with the shoulder barking again, that plan has been put on hold.
Tigers at Blue Jays
First pitch: 3:07 p.m. Saturday
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
RHP Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays: After an All-Star season in 2016, Sanchez has battled injuries to his right index finger the last two seasons, which limited him to 28 starts. He had surgery last September and looked like him dominating self in 17⅔ innings this spring.
RHP Spencer Turnbull, Tigers: Turnbull put himself on the Tigers’ radar with an impressive showing last September and followed it up with a lights-out spring. It’s not a coincidence that he ended up in the No. 3 spot in the rotation. His stuff — especially his power sinker — warranted it.