KANSAS CITY -- Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire laid down the challenge for Daniel Stumpf as soon as Blaine Hardy moved back into the club's rotation in place of the injured Michael Fulmer."He's going to have to pitch innings now, not just outs," Gardenhire said of his young lefty reliever.That was
KANSAS CITY -- Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire laid down the challenge for Daniel Stumpf as soon as Blaine Hardy moved back into the club's rotation in place of the injured Michael Fulmer.
"He's going to have to pitch innings now, not just outs," Gardenhire said of his young lefty reliever.
That was a message Stumpf was happy to hear.
"I've never been a one-inning guy, even last year," he said. "For me, getting out there for more than one batter makes me sharper. That's something I need to get back to."
Stumpf's first chance at it didn't go well on Sunday. He stuck out his first batter, lefty-hitting Jackie Bradley Jr., then Stumpf yielded a walk, a single and an Andrew Benintendi two-run triple, putting the Red Sox comfortably in front for a 9-1 win. But with no other lefties in the Tigers' bullpen, and none on the horizon in the Minor Leagues, Stumpf is going to get more chances.
"We have one lefty," Gardenhire said, "and you have two choices: You can save him for one lefty spot, or you can just let him pitch through innings. And he needs to pitch right now. He just needs innings, and we're not going to just sit there and wait."
Stumpf ranked near the league leaders in appearances, pitching in 28 of the Tigers' first 53 games, when he went on the disabled list at the end of May with ulnar nerve irritation in his left elbow. Yet those 28 appearances covered just 17 1/3 innings, and just 10 outings lasting a full inning.
Part of the culprit was ineffectiveness; he retired only one of five Twins batters he faced at Target Field on May 21, and he faced at least three batters in more than half his outings. Still, Stumpf has thrown eight pitches or fewer in 13 of 34 outings this year. He entered Monday's series opener against the Royals having faced more left-handed hitters (52) than right-handed ones (48) this season, which happens less often with lefty relievers than one would expect.
If Stumpf can stay in games longer and throw more pitches, he believes he'll have more repetitions to help his delivery and command pitches better. That, in turn, could help his effectiveness against lefties, who are hitting .289 (13-for-45) with five extra-base hits, six walks and 12 strikeouts against him this season. Right-handed hitters, meanwhile, have more walks (eight) than strikeouts (six) against him to go with a .950 OPS.
If Stumpf can strike the balance effectively, the Tigers will have more innings covered in their bullpen, allowing them to watch the workload on others who have pitched frequently this summer.
"We just don't have enough to match up all the time, just going one hitter," Gardenhire said. "It just doesn't work with us, the way we're set up. He's going to have to pitch. He needs to pitch more innings."
Zimmermann ready for return
Jordan Zimmermann hasn't pitched in nearly two weeks since giving up a costly three-run homer in the seventh inning against the Rays at Tropicana Field. He should not have to worry about running out of gas when he finally takes the mound on Tuesday night against the Royals.
The bigger worry, between all that time off and the nerve block injection he received in his back in the meantime, is whether he can run back out there with the form that made him a surprising comeback story in recent weeks. He understands the concern, because he has thought about it, too.
"There might be a little rust in the beginning," Zimmermann said, "but I don't really anticipate having much at all. I threw a bullpen [session] and my bullpen was good. All the stuff's coming out just as it was before the shot in my previous starts. I feel good."
Zimmermann characterized the injection as precautionary, having felt tightness in his back a couple days after his last start. It wasn't hampering him when he pitched, but with the extended break, he decided to take care of it so he doesn't have to worry about it down the stretch.
"It was getting tight and I kind of felt it in the front where I normally start to feel it," Zimmermann said. "So it was probably the right thing to do, just to go get the shot and calm it down over the break."
The feeling Zimmermann wants to preserve before the break is more than simply physical or mechanical. There's a confidence factor, too, that built up over four strong outings before mid-June into the break, a level of confidence he hasn't felt in a couple years.
"I feel like I've got that feeling back that I used to have," Zimmermann said, "throwing pitches at any time in any count. It's a big thing for me. When I wasn't going good, I knew I couldn't throw certain pitches in certain count, and now I'm throwing 3-2 curveballs and 3-2 changeups."
• Gardenhire settled into his office in the visitors' clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium to find a gift from his former team, the Twins, who were swept by the Royals here over the weekend. Twins personnel changed the wallpaper on the computer to show a photo of Gardenhire being ejected by former umpire Wally Bell in 2012 following an argument in Texas. Gardenhire laughed about it, having considered Bell a close friend. Bell died of a heart attack in 2013.
• Niko Goodrum played in 35 consecutive games, 32 of them starts, before Gardenhire gave him a day out of the lineup for Monday's series opener.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.