Kansas City, Mo. — When Jordan Zimmermann took the mound in the fifth inning Sunday, he had a 10-4 lead and was three outs away from qualifying for his first win since Sept. 5, 2018. Three outs away from allowing Mike Maroth to settle back into the Tigers’ history books, his dubious feat in 2003 not to be disturbed for possibly another 16 years.
Alas, Zimmermann could not survive the fifth inning and remains 0-6 on the season. He still can match Maroth's 0-7 start from his woebegone 21-loss season.
"When those guys put up runs like that, as a starting pitcher you've got to put up zeros," a dispirited Zimmermann said afterward. "You don't have to be perfect, just get outs...I've got to be way better than that.
"It's hard for me to go out and pitch like that knowing what I've done my whole career. It's not acceptable."
That would be the only taint on the day, though, as the Tigers finally unleashed some pent-up offense and held off the Royals 12-8, to snap a five-game losing streak.
"That was nice," said catcher John Hicks, who had two hits. "The was really nice. To score seven runs in the third inning, it gives us a lot of confidence and takes a little pressure off our pitching staff.
"Hopefully we can do that more often."
Harold Castro and Niko Goodrum paced a 19-hit attack with four hits each. Castro knocked in two runs and scored twice. Goodrum had two RBIs and two stolen bases. Christin Stewart had a pair of doubles, Jeimer Candelario had two hits and three RBIs and Gordon Beckham launched his fourth homer of the year.
It was the most runs and hits the Tigers produced in a game this season.
"We came out of the chute pretty good and we continued," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We didn't go away after we scored. We kept adding on."
Which proved to be necessary.
The Tigers busted it open with a season-best, seven-run third inning off an emergency starter and one-time Tigers farmhand.
The Royals scratched scheduled starting pitcher Homer Bailey just minutes before the game. And for a good reason: He’d been traded to Oakland for minor-league infield prospect Kevin Merrell. Taking his place was lefty Brian Flynn, drafted in the seventh round by the Tigers in 2011 and sent to Miami in the Anibal Sanchez deal in 2013.
"It was an adjustment," Gardenhire said. "We were prepared for Bailey and they switched to a lefty. Fortunately for us, it's not like I had to change my lineup too awful much. I just let them play.
"I feel like my lefties (Castro and Stewart) can hit left-handed pitching, so be it."
The Tigers bounced Flynn out of the game before he could get an out in the third inning. Castro and Nick Castellanos (two hits) singled. Flynn hit Stewart to load the bases and, on an 0-2 pitch, hit Brandon Dixon to force in a run.
Candelario cleared the bases on the next pitch — a three-run double and the floodgates were open.
Goodrum, who had struck out in his five previous at-bats, singled in Candelario and ended Flynn’s day.
But not the inning. Beckham blasted a pitch from right-hander Jorge Lopez that cleared the Tigers' bullpen in left field.
As good as that onslaught had to feel, it was tempered by the growing concern over Zimmermann. In his last two starts, he's allowed 14 runs and 21 hits in 7.1 innings.
"He's missed quite a bit of time," Gardenhire said, referencing the elbow injury that shelved Zimmermann for nearly two months. "Rehab doesn't always get it. You've got to get your legs and arm and pitches and get a good feel.
"He's one of those guys who needs to feel it, he has to feel his pitches. And right now he'll have one pitch working one day and not the next."
On Sunday it was his slider that failed him.
"The frustration level is probably as high as it can be," Zimmermann said when asked about the slider. "It's a pitch over the course of my career I could throw at any time and it would go where I wanted it to go.
"Now it seems like it's spinning and not doing a whole lot."
He gave up a two-run home run and an RBI double to Jorge Soler in the first four innings, then did not record an out in the fifth. An RBI triple by Whit Merrifield and an RBI single by Adalberto Mondesi put him on the ropes.
And when Alex Gordon followed with a single on an 0-2 pitch, Gardenhire bounced out of the dugout to take the ball from Zimmermann.
"I've been working on a sinker and I threw it a few times and got some outs with it," Zimmermann said. "But in that fifth inning, I threw a couple to Gordon for strikes, then I yanked one down and in for a base hit.
"It's just inconsistent right now and it's on me. I've got to be better than that."
Lefty Nick Ramirez ended the inning in two pitches — a double-play ground out by Hunter Dozier that plated a run and a ground out by Soler — and settled things down for three innings.