TORONTO -- Jordan Zimmermann began his fourth season as a Tiger with a quest for his second career no-hitter and first perfect game, silencing the Blue Jays’ offense through 6 2/3 innings on Thursday at Rogers Centre. He didn’t get a decision in Detroit’s 2-0 extra-innings win on Thursday, but
TORONTO -- Jordan Zimmermann began his fourth season as a Tiger with a quest for his second career no-hitter and first perfect game, silencing the Blue Jays’ offense through 6 2/3 innings on Thursday at Rogers Centre. He didn’t get a decision in Detroit’s 2-0 extra-innings win on Thursday, but he got a lot of the credit from teammates.
Zimmermann, who no-hit the Marlins on the final day of the 2014 season while pitching for the Nationals, gave Tigers fans a thrill to open the 2019 campaign, retiring Toronto’s first 20 batters in order with barely a threat of a base hit. He was a strike away from ending the seventh inning when he induced Teoscar Hernández to chase a slider off the plate. Hernandez got enough of it to hit a ground ball up the middle. Josh Harrison made a diving stop on the other side of second base, but his throw didn't stand a chance of getting Hernandez, whose Sprint Speed was 29.1 feet per second from home to first base, well above the Major League average of 27 feet per second.
“It was really a good pitch, off the plate and down,” Zimmermann said. “He hit a grounder where they weren’t, which happens.”
Zimmermann avoided a letdown and struck out Justin Smoak, sending him down swinging on back-to-back curveballs, to finish his outing with seven innings of one-hit ball with no walks and four strikeouts. He threw just 70 pitches, 47 of which were strikes. Zimmermann was on a 90-pitch limit for his first start of the season, but sitting down and getting back up for seven innings was the deciding factor in taking him out.
Danny Jansen and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. sent fly balls to the warning track in the third and fifth innings, respectively, but until Hernandez’s single, the closest Toronto came to a baserunner were a pair of full counts sandwiching Jansen’s flyout in the third. Zimmermann induced a Rowdy Tellez groundout with a 3-2 breaking ball before striking out Freddy Galvis on a nasty slider to end the inning.
Zimmermann otherwise kept Blue Jays hitters off-balance with a mix of pitches he’d been working on all spring, having acknowledged he couldn’t rely on his fastball like he used to. He threw more sliders (29) than fastballs (25) while mixing in an effective curveball, the pitch he had going during his most effective stretch of last season -- a stretch that included seven innings of one-run ball in Toronto last July. Five of Zimmermann’s 15 curveballs induced swinging strikes.
“I started a lot of guys off with offspeed,” Zimmermann said, “was able to sneak a fastball by every once in a while, would throw a couple fastballs to get them thinking fastball and then go back to the offspeed stuff. The curveball and slider were on point today.”
When Zimmermann no-hit the Marlins in 2014, his fastball averaged just over 94 mph, according to brooks-baseball. On Thursday, his hardest fastball was 92 mph, according to Statcast.
“We didn’t throw many fastballs,” Zimmermann said. “One changeup, and I told myself when I threw it, don’t get beat with this pitch because the other two are really good today. I bounced it on the plate, and we moved on from that.”
Jansen’s flyout was the only ball put in play off Zimmermann with an exit velocity in triple digits, registering at 100.6 mph according to Statcast.
The last Tigers no-hitter also came in Toronto, courtesy of Justin Verlander on May 7, 2011. He came within a J.P. Arencibia eighth-inning walk of tossing the Tigers’ first perfect game. Armando Galarraga retired his first 26 batters on June 2, 2010 before losing a perfect game with a two-out infield single by Cleveland’s Jason Donald. Replays showed Donald should’ve been out, but there was not replay review available then.
Hall of Famer Bob Feller owns MLB’s only Opening Day no-hitter, having blanked the White Sox on April 16, 1940. That same day, 40-year-old Lefty Grove took a perfect game through seven innings for the Red Sox against Washington. Zimmermann’s outing Thursday was the longest bid since then.
Stewart, who made a big impression as a September callup last year and won the starting left-field job in Spring Training, struck out twice and flew out in his first three at-bats Thursday. After Niko Goodrum led off the 10th inning with a double, Blue Jays reliever Daniel Hudson put Stewart in an 0-2 count and set him up for a slider. Stewart made him pay for leaving the slider up and over the plate by sending it out to right field on a line for a game-winning two-run home run.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.