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If it was goodbye, Zim left debut with smile

@beckjason
September 10, 2020

If Thursday ends up being Jordan Zimmermann’s final start as a Tiger, he at least got the chance to smile after an outing once more. His three innings with an unearned run gave Detroit a chance. He was smiling a little bigger after the Tigers finally converted it with a

If Thursday ends up being Jordan Zimmermann’s final start as a Tiger, he at least got the chance to smile after an outing once more. His three innings with an unearned run gave Detroit a chance. He was smiling a little bigger after the Tigers finally converted it with a five-run seventh inning for a 6-3 win in the nightcap and a doubleheader split against the Cardinals on Thursday at Busch Stadium.

Box score

“I can imagine he's probably as happy as he's been in baseball in a while,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Being able to get out there, stay healthy and get through those innings, after everything he's been through, when we shook his hand, that meant a lot to him.”

Skubal's homework assignment: Command

The Tigers had been outscored by a 31-2 margin in two games and had a 3-0 deficit with six outs to go. Their unwillingness to give away those outs speaks to the attitude that got them into this American League playoff chase.

Zimmermann had a similar attitude about coming back this year after a right forearm strain landed him on the 45-day injured list at the end of Summer Camp. He rehabbed at the team's alternate training site in Toledo, Ohio, where top prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal worked before joining Detroit’s rotation last month.

“I never lost hope,” Zimmermann said, “but I knew with the injury that I had and the timetable to come back, it was going to be a long, difficult road. We worked extremely hard. Once I got out to [throwing] 120 feet and was able to throw pain-free, I knew there was a decent chance I'd be able to come back, whether it would be in the bullpen or anything I could do to help out.”

The Tigers faced a 3-1 deficit going into the seventh and final inning, but rookie Sergio Alcántara’s leadoff walk ignited a rally off Cards closer Giovanny Gallegos. Victor Reyes and Jonathan Schoop hit back-to-back singles to score one run and put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.

For the second time this week, Miguel Cabrera was walked with first base open -- this time intentionally -- to load the bases for Jeimer Candelario, who again answered with a two-run single to put the Tigers in front. Jorge Bonifacio’s two-run homer added insurance runs for Bryan Garcia’s second save this week.

The game was within reach thanks in no small part to Zimmermann, who scattered four hits but avoided the big inning that could’ve sunk this game. He had a runner on third base in each of his first two innings but escaped with strikeouts on 90 mph fastballs and a double play. A highlight catch from Daz Cameron, who crashed into the right-field fence to rob Paul Goldschmidt of an extra-base hit on a 103.1-mph line drive, saved another run in the third.

Zimmermann faced Cameron’s father, Mike, in 2011. Daz Cameron played behind Zimmermann during Zimmermann’s rehab in Toledo.

“I was watching him down in Toledo when he came back from the COVID stuff. I know he's really good out there,” Zimmermann said. “I was assuming it was going to be off the wall for a double. Daz had a great jump and made a great play. He's really, really good out there. He's going to be exciting to watch for years to come.”

Gardenhire didn’t push Zimmermann past that, instead opting for piggyback reliever Tyler Alexander. Matt Carpenter's fourth-inning double and Tommy Edman's fifth-inning homer extended St. Louis' lead before Candelario’s sixth-inning homer, his second of the doubleheader and third in four games, cut into Detroit’s deficit.

What the Tigers do with Zimmermann from here, with just more than two weeks left in the season, is unclear. Barring postponements or a makeup of their other postponed doubleheader against the Cardinals at Comerica Park, they won’t need an extra starter the rest of the way. Their current rotation includes two top prospects who need regular work in Skubal and Mize. Michael Fulmer needs innings as he works back from Tommy John surgery, and the Tigers need innings from which to evaluate him. Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull need starts to work through their issues.

All are either part of next year’s rotation or need to be evaluated going into it. Zimmermann is wrapping up the final season of his five-year contract. Both the Tigers and Zimmermann acknowledged this is likely his final year in Detroit.

“We just wanted to see how he did,” Gardenhire said. “We'll make plans as we go along here where everybody's up and what we're doing and try to fit him in another spot. But that was fun to watch him pitch, fun to watch him get back out there.”

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.