Tigers' Jordan Zimmermann zaps Blue Jays with seven strong innings
Toronto — This was some kind of performance. In fact, it was better than even the numbers, which were very good, might have implied.
Jordan Zimmermann threw a gallant seven innings for the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, allowing a lone run, giving up six hits that were more like three or four, while striking out six Toronto Blue Jays batters, and walking none in Detroit's 9-1 victory.
"Great curveball today," Gardenhire said. "Probably the best I've seen this year. I think he knew we needed that."
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Zimmermann indeed knew everyone — including himself — wanted a virtuoso Sunday. The Tigers hadn't won a game in two weeks. And a pitcher who hasn't had the merriest of times since he arrived in Detroit two seasons ago was aching to show his craft was still top-shelf.
Zimmermann lasted seven innings and 97 pitches. He could have had an even tidier start had a couple of defensive plays been made, by Martin and John Hicks, on hard-hit balls, and had a pair of back-to-back infield hits in the fifth been handled.
"My off-speed stuff was really good today," said Zimmermann, who got third-strike swings on five sliders, and another with his curve. "I think the slider's coming back."
Zimmermann's ERA is now 3.91 and moving steadily into the neighborhood the Tigers envisioned when they signed him nearly three years ago to a five-year package worth $110 million.
He said the curveball showed up, as often is the case with a pitcher, somewhat by accident. He had thrown a first-inning change-up to Curtis Granderson that had been high. He went to the more downward-biting curve and saw that he had his third pitch.
"It was good the whole game," said Zimmermann, who explained that two weeks of defeats hadn't been at the forefront of Sunday's thoughts.
But he was glad it had ceased.
"So you guys can stop talking about the losing streak," he said, with a grin.
Quite a catch
Nick Castellanos would have been forgiven for displaying some different emotion. It would have been understood had he stopped, thrown his hands in the air, bent his body downward in a posture of disbelief, and grimaced at what had been taken away in the ninth inning of Sunday's game at Rogers Centre.
He instead gazed at Kevin Pillar in center field, raised his hands and applauded.
The Jays outfielder had just galloped to the fence, 400 feet away, looking as if he was trying to jump a speeding train. Pillar launched himself, with his back to home plate, stretched his glove skyward and reached past the fence to stab Castellanos' blast and cost the Tigers' best hitter a second home run and two more RBIs after Castellanos had hit a grand-slam in the fifth.
"What a play," said Castellanos, who decided a moment of defense so majestic was worth a hooray from everyone, including himself.
"Plays like that are going to happen to somebody," he said. "I'm just happy we won this game."
Gardenhire thought Castellanos had shown grace baseball players, and managers, owe when something spectacular has happened. Even at their expense.
"Even Nick appreciated that one," Gardenhire said. "To climb that wall and make that play, with the timing?"
Castellanos is back on top in Tigers home runs with 13. His grand slam was the fourth of his career. He also singled.
Niko Goodrum had been having his ills of late. They ceased Sunday. He was 4-for-4, with a double.
"I wasn't pressing," said Goodrum, who moved his average from .220 to .236. "Just changed my approach up."
JaCoby Jones also had a better day fter he arrived at Rogers Centre with a .217 batting average.
He doubled in the third, then launched a line-drive homer over the left-center field wall in the ninth that even Pillar couldn't run down.
Tigers at Blue Jays
First pitch: 1:07 Monday, Rogers Centre, Toronto
TV/radio: FSD, MLB/97.1
RHP Mike Fiers (5-5, 4.04), Tigers: On the entire Tigers staff, nobody gives opposing teams as many fits as Fiers — when that 20-mph-plus variation between his pitches is cooking. Blue Jays, beware.
LHP Ryan Borucki (0-1, 3.00), Blue Jays: The 24-year-old made his major-league debut last time out, and was impressive, despite suffering the loss.
Kody Clemens gave a taste of what's to come for the Tigers with a majestic homer and bat flip
Detroit — JaCoby Jones — he exhilarates and he exasperates.
"He's lucky he has a butt right now," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Lucky I didn't chew it off. But he's learning."
The Tigers scored seven runs in the first inning against left-hander Cole Hamels Saturday, beating the Rangers 7-2, and Jones was at the center of most of the action.
BOX SCORE: Tigers 7, Rangers 2
"He's a spectacular guy," said Tigers' starter Mike Fiers, who went six strong innings for his sixth win of the season. "He's fast, he jumps high — he can do everything you want a center fielder to do."
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Jones is 26 and in his first full season with the Tigers. On Saturday, it was his line drive that Rangers center fielder Delino DeShields butchered, allowing three of the seven runs to score.
But Jones nearly cost the Tigers two runs in the same inning. On the ball DeShields missed, he was nearly thrown out at second base — before Jeimer Candelario, who was running from first base, crossed home plate. Jones loped into second, didn't slide and very nearly was tagged out.
Then, on a base hit by Mikie Mahtook, Jones jogged home from second. Meanwhile, Mahtook stretched the single into a double and was barely safe at second. If he'd been thrown out, Jones would not have scored.
"He thought he hit a line drive right to the center fielder," Gardenhire explained. "When he saw the ball dropped, he started to run. Then he didn't run home. He was jogging home and they had a play at second.
"Those are the things you can't control (as a runner), so you still have to go hard. They catch it, they might get Mahtook at second before he scores."
Gardenhire was miffed at the time, but didn't say anything to Jones when he came back into the dugout.
"I could see how frustrated he was," Gardenhire said. "I didn't say a word. Just leave it at that. I'll talk to him as we go along."
Jones, who left the clubhouse early to be with his family and didn't speak to the media, more than made up for it, though, by stealing a home run from Adrian Beltre in the sixth inning.
"That was amazing," Fiers said. "I thought for sure it was gone. Amazing. I've said this before, but no matter what the score is, no matter what's going on, these guys are playing hard behind me and I love it."
Beltre hit a majestic fly ball that was headed into the visitor’s bullpen in left-center field. Jones got back, leaped and caught the ball on the other side of the fence and brought it back.
"JaCoby is fun to watch out there," said Niko Goodrum, who had four hits and is now hitting .464 in the month of July. "He's going to do some amazing things. When that ball was hit, I just waited to see what he was going to do.
"When he got it, I just kind of went crazy. I wanted to run out there and celebrate with him."
The game literally came to a stop before the next batter, Rougned Odor, stepped in as players on both teams watched the replay on the big scoreboard.
"We saw (Kevin) Pillar in Toronto make a catch on Nicky (Castellanos) that was every bit as good — the fence is taller there," Gardenhire said. "But that was a super play. He had to make a long run, the sun is out there — it wasn't an easy play.
"You have to time it. His whole arm went over the fence. You have to be athletic to be able to some of those things he does."
If nothing else this month, the Tigers are making major league scouts recalculate their thoughts about possible trade targets — especially those from teams seeking starting pitching help.
Earlier this month they roughed up Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ (seven runs in 5⅔ innings). Then on Saturday, they KO'd Hamels in the first inning.
He recorded just two outs while giving up a 411-foot home run to Castellanos, walking two and giving up three singles. The Tigers sent 11 hitters to the plate in that inning.
Castellanos struck his 15th home run of the season with an exit velocity of 109 mph. He drove it on a line over the Tigers’ bullpen in left field.
"We got a big break when that ball to center field was dropped and we were able to add on," Gardenhire said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't add on after that. But Mike held us in."
The only damage against Fiers was a solo home run to right field by Odor, two pitches after Jones robbed Beltre.
"My command wasn't all there today," Fiers said. "But I was able to make some pitches in big spots. I'll take that (seven-run inning) every time, but it got me out of my rhythm a little bit.
"I was effectively wild, I guess you could say, because I don't think they really knew where I was throwing the ball either."
The Tigers, though, are now 6-2 in Fiers’ last eight starts. He allowed five hits over the six innings, and Odor had two of them.
In his last three starts, Fiers has allowed three runs 21 innings, with 16 strikeouts and three walks.
Hicks' bat, wheels spark Tigers in dramatic win
Chicago — Ron Gardenhire said it before the game. On warm nights like Friday night, the ball carries at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“You never feel safe,” he said.
Not for a single inning.
Starter Mike Fiers took a 3-0 lead into the sixth inning. Four batters and one long, majestic fly ball by White Sox catcher Omar Narvaez later, the game was tied.
But, as has been the Tigers’ way this year, they shrugged it off and found another way to win the game.
They manufactured a run out of a single and walk in the eighth inning to win their third straight, beating the White Sox, 4-3, in the first of a three-game set.
BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, White Sox 3
The winning run was delivered by the wheels of — John Hicks?
"I'm getting a little upset about people thinking I'm slow," said Hicks, who also contributed in his normal fashion, with a 396-foot home run. "I hit a triple yesterday. I showed I still have a little speed."
Hicks opened the eighth with a line-drive single to right off reliever Juan Minaya. Niko Goodrum walked.
Hicks smartly tagged and went to third on a fly out to right field by James McCann. Goodrum then stole second.
Victor Reyes, the Tigers’ Rule 5 rookie, hit a ground ball to first baseman Jose Abreu, who was playing in. Abreu bobbled the ball slightly, just long enough to allow Hicks to slide safely around the tag at the plate.
"We were going on contact," Hicks said. "I saw the ball down (on the ground) and took off. Abreu bobbled it a little; I might've been in trouble if he didn't. But I was able to get around the tag."
Hicks said he read the way Narvaez set up to take the throw.
"I knew with the throw coming from first base I was going to have to get around him," he said.
There was more drama, though. The White Sox loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth against Alex Wilson. But Wilson got Charlie Tilson to hit a ground ball to first. Hicks threw home to force out the lead runner.
Then Wilson got Adam Engel to ground out softly to short.
"I don't like working that hard for those results," Wilson said with a smile. "A couple of infield singles, all weak contact. That's how this game works. You just have to battle and make pitches when it's crucial to do so.
"I was able to do that tonight."
Wilson worked the eighth because Gardenhire and pitching coach Chris Bosio had decided before the game not to use Joe Jimenez. He had worked the two previous games, as did closer Shane Greene, who pitched a scoreless ninth for his 18th save.
Had they used both Jimenez and Greene, they wouldn't have either one available for Saturday. Now, if need, Jimenez can close on Saturday.
"We'll make a decision (on Greene) tomorrow," Gardenhire said. "I know he'll be the first one in my office in the morning saying he's good to go."
The Tigers have won the last three games with late-inning rallies.
But go back to that sixth inning.
With one out and Fiers seemingly in control, Daniel Palka and Matt Davidson singled. Davidson earned his working a 10-pitch at-bat after falling behind 1-2. The next pitch Fiers threw, an 85-mph two-seamer to Narvaez, wound up flying over the right-field fence — game-tying three-run homer, his first since last September.
It was only the fifth two-seamer Fiers threw in 83 pitches.
"I have to do a better job there of keeping the ball in the park," Fiers said. "But as long as it was tied at that point and (reliever Louis) Coleman came in and got me out of that jam — we won the game and that's all that matters."
Fiers’ next pitch was his last.
He hit Tim Anderson square in the back with a 70-mph curveball. Anderson said something to Fiers on his way to first and catcher James McCann got in front of Anderson.
The White Sox players started spilling out of their dugout. But Gardenhire was quick to the mound and Fiers himself made it clear he had no malicious intent.
"It was very strange," Fiers said. "I don't think (Anderson) meant anything about it. It might've been some kind of joke he was trying to get across. There was no harm involved."
Said Gardenhire: "I don't think there was anything to it. I really think the kid was saying, 'I'm OK.' Mike didn't know what he was saying. He threw a slow curve and it hit him. There was nothing to it.
"I just walked out like, what are we doing here? A 70-mph curveball?"
Order was restored, though Fiers was booed lustily on his way off the field.
The Tigers scored three times in the first three innings off White Sox starter Reynaldo Lopez. That’s more earned runs than they mustered in two seven-inning starts against him earlier this season.
Hicks destroyed a 95-mph, 2-0 fastball in the second, sending his sixth home run of the season 396 feet over the right-center field fence.
In the third inning, Victor Martinez ripped a two-run double into the right-field corner. It was just his third extra-base hit (all doubles) in 86 plate appearances over 23 games.
The Tigers stranded four runners in scoring position between the second and fifth innings. McCann, who had three singles, was thrown out trying to steal home in the fourth.
With two out, Leonys Martin singled, sending McCann to third. Martin stole second. When Narvaez threw to second, McCann broke for home. Shortstop Anderson quickly got the ball back to Narvaez, well ahead of McCann’s slide.
"He wasn't supposed to go," Gardenhire said. "We knew we could steal second there. And Dave (Clark, third base coach) told him, 'You are staying.' But sometimes your heart says I can do this."
Gardenhire, even though it ended the inning, liked the aggressiveness of the play.
"The third baseman was playing way off the line," he said. "If Mac is going to do that, he's got to get way down the line. He wasn't. But if he was way down the line, I guarantee he scores."