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Homers spoil Zimmermann's steady outing

Righty nurses lead until getting stung in 4th trip through lineup
MLB.com @beckjason

ST. PETERSBURG -- Jordan Zimmermann made plenty of quality pitches Wednesday afternoon. As he watched C.J. Cron turn on his hanging slider and belt a drive to left, Zimmermann threw up his arms like he wanted to throw his glove. He knew as soon as he released the ball.

"As soon as I let it go, I knew it was a horrible pitch," Zimmermann said after the Tigers' 4-2 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field. "And then you just hope for the best at that point. Those are the home runs [Cron] hits, the hanging sliders, hanging curveballs. That's where he does his damage. ...

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Jordan Zimmermann made plenty of quality pitches Wednesday afternoon. As he watched C.J. Cron turn on his hanging slider and belt a drive to left, Zimmermann threw up his arms like he wanted to throw his glove. He knew as soon as he released the ball.

"As soon as I let it go, I knew it was a horrible pitch," Zimmermann said after the Tigers' 4-2 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field. "And then you just hope for the best at that point. Those are the home runs [Cron] hits, the hanging sliders, hanging curveballs. That's where he does his damage. ...

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"As soon as I let it go, I'm hoping he fouls it straight back or pops it up or does something other than the outcome I had today."

Cron didn't miss. And as the Tigers digested their three-game series sweep at Tropicana Field, the second consecutive season they've been swept out of Tampa Bay, manager Ron Gardenhire had a similar feeling.

"No one feels worse than me," Gardenhire said. "Maybe Zimm, but I feel pretty bad about it. But that's his ballgame. He's a veteran guy. You just don't mess with that. He gets him out or he doesn't, but I had all the confidence that he was going to get the guy out."

The Tigers had been cautious with Zimmermann since his comeback from a right shoulder impingement. Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson took him out with a 3-1 lead before the ninth inning of his last start, despite eight innings of four-hit ball over 96 pitches.

Wednesday's situation was different. It was the seventh inning, not the ninth, and they likely would've needed more than one reliever to finish out. Moreover, Zimmermann has a long rest ahead with the All-Star break next week.

Thus, when Gardenhire and Anderson talked about it, they agreed to allow Zimmermann to pitch towards the 100-pitch mark for the first time since last August.

"You feel terrible [Zimmermann] gave up the home run," Gardenhire said, "but I would feel worse if I brought in a pitcher that gave up his runs. You work that long into a ballgame, a veteran like that, if I walk to take him out there, there would probably be a fight on the mound, I would imagine. And you have to give him that opportunity."

Zimmermann (4-1) entered the series finale on a roll, having allowed just two runs on 13 hits over 20 innings in his last three starts. His slider had been its sharpest since he joined the Tigers three years ago, by his opinion, and he used it for three of his five strikeouts Wednesday, throwing a few at 89 mph.

Video: DET@TB: Zimmermann makes a smooth barehanded stop

Zimmermann protected a 2-1 advantage until he began a fourth trip through the Rays' lineup in the seventh. Back-to-back one-out singles from Kevin Kiermaier and Matt Duffy put the go-ahead run on base and brought the Tigers' bullpen warming.

Zimmermann induced Jake Bauers to chase a high fastball for the second straight at-bat, popping it up for the second out. Up came Cron, who singled and doubled in his first two at-bats, and catcher James McCann pointed to his helmet to tell Zimmermann to be smart.

"I didn't see it," Zimmermann said. "So I just assumed let's attack this guy. So that's on me."

The first two pitches were careful. Cron declined to chase a first-pitch slider off the corner, nor the next pitch further out.

"When I get to 2-0, [I need] to be careful and pitch around this guy," Zimmermann said. "My stubbornness came in and I thought, 'I'm going to throw the slider down on the corner and get this guy out.' And of course, those are the ones you hang."

Cron connected for a 109.8-mph drive and his 18th home run of the season. Zimmermann, who finished with four runs allowed on 11 hits over 6 ⅔ innings, threw his hands in the air.

"At the end of the day, it was a mistake," McCann said. "Mistake pitch, mistake way of attacking him. It was just a mistake all the way around and they made us pay."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
McCann powers Detroit ahead: The Tigers hadn't led in a game since last Saturday, and didn't look like they would against the Rays' bullpen until James McCann followed Mikie Mahtook's bunt single with a drive off an 0-2 changeup. It was the Tigers' first home run since Nicholas Castellanos went deep at Comerica Park last Saturday off Cole Hamels.

Video: DET@TB: McCann unloads a 2-run homer to left in 4th

SOUND SMART
McCann's home run was the Tigers' first off an 0-2 pitch this season. They were the lone team in the Majors without one. Justin Upton, now with the Angels, had the last one, homering Aug. 5 off then-Oriole Wade Miley in Baltimore.

UP NEXT
The Tigers are off Thursday before closing out their first-half schedule with a three-game series against the Astros. Mike Fiers (6-5, 3.65) returns to Houston for the first time since joining Detroit in Friday's series opener, an 8:10 p.m. ET start at Minute Maid Park. Houston has yet to announce a starter.

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

Detroit Tigers, Jordan Zimmermann