OAKLAND -- Jordan Zimmermann took a big step closer to getting his better form back from earlier this summer, but it wasn't enough to get the Tigers closer to toppling the red-hot A's.
"We know they're a really good baseball team," manager Ron Gardenhire said after Saturday's 2-1 loss at Oakland Coliseum, "and we've pitched every bit as good as they have. We just can't come up with the big hits, and that's probably because their pitching staff is really good."
Against a lot of other teams, Zimmermann's recovery from two third-inning solo homers would've been enough to lift the Tigers to a win. But not since the early days of Connie Mack and his 1902 Philadelphia Athletics have the A's dominated the Tigers like this, having won their last 11 meetings.
"They're good," Zimmermann said of the current A's. "As long as they have a lead going into the sixth or seventh, their bullpen's pretty solid. They have some hard throwers out there. You have to get them early and you have to get some runs off their starters. If you do that, you have a chance."
Considering Gardenhire talked half-jokingly before the game about using utilityman Ronny Rodriguez in relief if something happened to his starter, the Tigers needed a good outing from Zimmermann after Friday's 13-inning loss. Considering six of Oakland's first 13 batters reached base safely, Zimmermann was flirting with such a disaster. He recovered in part by getting back to what made him effective in June and early July, finding the curveball that had deserted him since his extended All-Star break.
"Really, the first couple innings, I didn't use it a whole lot," Zimmermann said. "And from there on, I started mixing it in some more."
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Zimmermann stranded the bases loaded in the first inning, left a runner on third base in the second and fourth innings, and retired eight in a row before a single and a walk chased him in the seventh. His 15 curveballs were nearly double his total from his last start against Cleveland. They induced three swing-and-misses, including two of his six strikeouts, and four called strikes.
The result was Zimmermann's first quality start since July 6, allowing two runs on six hits over 6 1/3 innings with three walks and six strikeouts.
His downfall was a pair of home-run pitches, the fourth straight two-homer outing for a right-hander, who allowed just five homers over his first 10 starts combined. The first was an 0-2 fastball that was meant to get Matt Chapman chasing up and out of the zone. Instead, it wandered over the plate, where Chapman centered a 111 mph line drive that carried over the wall in straightaway center field.
Two batters later, Khris Davis jumped a first-pitch slider for his 30th home run of the season.
Zimmermann (4-4) suffered his fourth consecutive loss in as many starts for the first time in his career thanks to former Tiger Edwin Jackson, who held down the Tigers following Jeimer Candelario's first-inning RBI single with a slider reminiscent of his younger days. The 34-year-old right-hander, an All-Star with the Tigers in 2009, did not allow a runner in scoring position after Jose Iglesias' second-inning double, finishing with an unearned run over 6 1/3 innings.
Chapman's homer snapped a 19-inning homerless streak by Detroit starters, the longest by the Tigers since they tossed 21 1/3 homerless innings from April 6-9, 2015.
HE SAID IT
"We're battling. We're undermanned a little bit. We have a lot of young people out there on the field. Some of the at-bats are really good, and some of them don't go our way. I'm happy with the way these guys are competing here in a big atmosphere. These guys are fighting for the playoffs, and we're coming in here and pitching our tails off. Unfortunately, we just can't find a way to score enough runs." -- Gardenhire, on the Tigers' recent offensive struggles
Francisco Liriano (3-5, 4.41 ERA) returns to the mound for his first appearance in a week and his first start since July 23 as the series concludes Sunday with a 4:05 p.m. ET start at the Oakland Coliseum. Liriano, who missed time with an allergic reaction last week, is 3-0 against the A's since 2013. Trevor Cahill (3-2, 3.39) gets the start for Oakland.