'Just didn't work out': Encouraging start for Tigers goes up in flames
Pittsburgh — Funny thing about the Tigers' 8-7 loss to the Pirates Wednesday night — it just about followed the script manager Ron Gardenhire had envisioned.
With some fairly tragic alterations, of course.
"We knew with Jordan (Zimmermann) starting, he'd be able to go about 70-75 pitches, and he got there in four innings," Gardenhire said. "It was Nick Ramirez's job to get us through the next three innings at least.
"He's been really good for us, that's why you go to him. It was the scenario we hoped for. It just didn't work out."
No, it did not. The Tigers had barely stopped celebrating back-to-back home runs from Brandon Dixon and Harold Castro and a 7-1 lead when the Pirates’ stormed back with seven unanswered runs and walked off with a split of this two-game set.
"It's unfortunate," said Nick Castellanos, who had three hits in the game. "Zimm pitched his butt off, he pitched good enough to win. So to get a split instead of a sweep, it sucks."
Ramirez, until giving up three runs against the Indians his last outing, had been lights-out in a long-relief role. So much so that before the game Gardenhire had given him the nickname The Big TIcket.
But on this night, The Big Ticket got cashed.
"It's just what happened," said Ramirez. "I single-handedly cost us a game. I just have to go back to work and get myself back to where I was in the previous outings."
He inherited a 7-3 lead and lost it in 1⅓ innings. Starling Marte hit a two-run home run off him in the fifth inning and Bryan Reynolds whacked a three-run shot in the sixth.
"Everything was inconsistent," Ramirez said. "My release point was inconsistent. Pitches were up. And when I did make a pitch down they found a barrel. I didn't have a put-away pitch like I've had in the past.
"Obviously, falling behind, not being able to repeat my mechanics and being out of whack — they made me pay."
It started out as a battle between two veteran starting pitchers returning from lengthy stays on the injured list, and there was enough rust on each to choke an SUV.
The Tigers jumped all over Pirates right-hander Trevor Williams, who had been out with an injury to his right oblique and was making his first start since May 16.
They scored twice in the first inning. JaCoby Jones led off the game with a hustle double — aggressively taking second base on left fielder Corey Dickerson. He scored on a single by Harold Castro.
The Tigers broke out the big guns in a five-run third. After a two-run double by Niko Goodrum, Dixon and Castro hit 853 feet worth of home runs. Dixon’s blast went 453 feet to the deepest part of PNC Park, over the cut-out in left-center.
"I don't know if it was farthest one I've ever hit, but I've never hit a ball that hard," Dixon said. "It was one of those that when you hit it, you know you've hit it out."
Castro followed with his first big-league homer, which traveled 400 feet into the bleachers in right-center.
"It was an amazing feeling for me," Castro said. "I knew I hit that ball good, but I wasn't thinking it was going to be a home run. When I saw the ball go over the fence, I thought, 'I've got to get that ball for my dad.'"
Castro did get the ball back and he will be delivering it to his father.
But Williams settled down and got nine straight outs before leaving after five innings. And the Tigers bats stayed dormant against three Pirates relievers, including former Tiger Francisco Liriano, who pitched two scoreless innings.
"Their pitcher made some adjustments," Gardenhire said. "He starting to spin the ball better and push us off the plate. You tip your hat to him for hanging in there like that. But, for us, when you start scoring runs you want to add on to it.
"We got a little more aggressive and they took advantage of that."
The Tigers got two singles and didn't get a runner in scoring position after the third inning.
For Zimmermann, though, it was an encouraging night. Making his first start since April 25, he allowed three runs and five hits in his four innings. All the runs came after two outs.
"It felt good," he said. "I would've like to go five innings and be out there as long as I can, but the third inning was a battle for me. They made me work. I threw a lot of pitches, and a lot of good pitches they fouled off.
"It was a grind."
He nearly pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second inning, striking out No. 8 hitter Adam Frazier for the second out. That brought up the pitcher Williams, who lined an opposite-field single on the first pitch.
"Of course I make a mistake to the pitcher," he said. "I should have started him off with a breaking ball. I knew he'd be up there swinging. That's on me."
With two outs in the third inning, after a laborious nine-pitch battle, Dickerson lined a two-run double.
Zimmermann threw 75 pitches in his four innings, and it was clear he didn’t have a feel for his slider, a very important weapon for him. In the at-bat against Dickerson, he ended up throwing mostly fastballs and curveballs, eventually losing the at-bat with a curveball.
"The curveball has been a good pitch for me lately, and the slider hasn't quite been there yet," he said. "I threw a few good ones and then there were a few that backed up on me. I didn't want to get beat with that pitch.
"We just went with what was working."
Zimmermann ended up throwing 27 curves and just 15 sliders, off 30 four-seam fastballs.
"I thought he threw the ball pretty decent, and you know what, that's something to build on," Gardenhire said. "We desperately need him in this rotation. We all know how we're struggling in our rotation and we need him in it.
"It's good, he's healthy."
There was one last thing in Gardenhire's script. He saved Miguel Cabrera as his final pinch-hitter, hoping he'd get a swing to either tie the game or put the Tigers in front.
"I was hoping we'd get him a swing with a couple of runners on base," Gardenhire said. "Turned out we had to use him with the bases empty."
Cabrera grounded out to end the game.
"We threw everything we had out there," Gardenhire said.