Cabrera sparks Tigers, helps get Zimmermann first win since September

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Anaheim, Calif. — It was a good night for the Tigers oldsters

Miguel Cabrera hit his first home run since July 4. He’d gone 65 plate appearances between dingers. This one was vintage. He swatted a 92-mph fastball from Los Angeles Angels starter Jaime Barria 407 feet into the shrubbery in center field at Angels Stadium.

Los Angeles Angels' Kole Calhoun, right, reacts after striking out with the bases loaded as Tigers catcher John Hicks walks away during the sixth inning.

He joked on the YouTube broadcast that it would have been the third out at Comerica Park — which was true.

Cabrera also contributed a two-run single in the eighth inning, helping the Tigers end a six-game losing streak, 7-2.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 7, Angels 2

"These games, it's about winning," Cabrera said. "When you are winning, everything takes care of itself. I am happy we won this game and I hope we can win the series." 

Jordy Mercer also hit a 400-foot home run, his going into the rocks in left-center — just his fourth as a Tiger.

But those are the sidebars. The headline was Jordan Zimmermann. For the first time since last September, there is a "W" next to his name in the box score. He had lost 10 straight decisions, eight straight this season.

"That's never a good feeling or a good look," he said. "But like I kept saying, I was just going to keep grinding until something good happened. Tonight was a good night. I've been making progress with my pitching and this week my bullpen session was a lot better."

He made a couple of small adjustments, moving more toward the first base side of the rubber and working to get better depth on his slider. 

"I felt like the ball was coming out a lot better and I had better command," he said. 

After a brutal four-start stretch, Zimmermann looked like a different pitcher Monday. He ended up fading a bit in the sixth, but he went 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs and four hits.

"I am happy for him," Cabrera said. "We are a team. We win together and we stick together. It doesn't matter how bad you are playing or how bad you are pitching. We've got to stay focused and stay together.

"Zimm pitched a good game tonight and I am happy for him."

In his four previous July starts, Zimmermann had been tagged for 24 runs in 15 1/3 innings, opponents hitting .450 against him, slugging .738 with a 1.226 OPS. He called it the lowest point of his career.

But there were brief hints that he was coming around. After a rough first inning in Kansas City on July 14, he settled in for three innings before things went awry. He pitched four solid innings before blowing up against the Phillies last Wednesday.

"I threw strikes," he said. "The location was the biggest thing. I've made a lot of mistakes over the last 10 starts or so, getting 0-2 or 1-2 and then throwing something right down the middle and getting hurt.

"I was able to throw strikes and then expand off the plate when I needed to."

He came out attacking. He didn’t face a three-ball count until the sixth inning. His pitch count in the first five innings — 9, 13, 9, 10 and 11. Efficient. His old friend, the slider, was back. He threw 23 of them and got six called strikes and two swinging strikes.  

The only damage against him in the first five innings was an opposite-field home run by Kole Calhoun in the fifth inning. He hit a curveball off the top of the left-field fence that bounced over.

Tigers left fielder Christin Stewart slammed into the fence at full speed on the Calhoun homer. He suffered a concussion on the play and was placed on the seven-day concussion protocol.

In the sixth inning, though, Zimmermann gave up a single to Matt Thaiss and a ringing RBI double to David Fletcher — a ball hit to the wall in center that JaCoby Jones nearly caught.

When he hit Mike Trout in the wrist with a 3-1 pitch, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire pulled him, even though he was only at 61 pitches. Zimmermann left with a one-run lead and runners at first and second.

Blaine Hardy, though, had his back.

"That's probably the most adrenaline I've felt in a while," Hardy said. "I'm not going to say we were fighting for Zimm to get his first win of the season. But, I'm going to say coming into that game I felt more pressure than if it was just another one-run game.

"It was a matter of preserving his chance to get that win and I was really happy to complete that."

After walking Shohei Ohtani to load the bases, he struck out Justin Upton (swinging and missing on a 3-2 change-up) and Calhoun (swing and missing on a 2-2 curveball).

He didn't throw a fastball to either hitter, especially not to Upton, who knocked his cutter into the bullpen the last time Hardy pitched here.

"Absolutely not," Hardy said. "Playing with him (in Detroit), I know his approach at the plate. He's a fastball hitter and if you throw stuff that breaks into him, he has a chance to crush it. 

"I showed him a couple of curveballs, but I went back to the change-up and he chased it out of the zone on 3-2. He kind of did me a favor."

Buck Farmer pitched a scoreless seventh, getting Fletcher to ground out with runners at first and second.

Cabrera's two-run single through a drawn-in infield in the eighth — plus Niko Goodrum scoring from third on a two-out wild pitch — relieved a good deal of the tension. 

If you are keeping track of these things, the single was No. 2,769 of Cabrera's career, tying Johnny Damon for 54th on the all-time list. His home run was No. 471, two shy of Carlos Delgado for 33rd all-time.

Jones had a pair of hits, scored a run and knocked in a run. Mercer and Harold Castro also had two hits.   

Shane Greene, who had last worked July 23, pitched a scoreless ninth. It was his seventh appearance this month. 

It was the Tigers' second win of the year against a team from the AL West, the first since they beat the Angels at Comerica Park on May 8. The Tigers had lost 24 of the last 25 games against West Division teams going back to last year. @cmccosky