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'JZ' start part of hard knock life for Tigers staff

Outside of Verlander, rotation is 0-10 with a 9.52 ERA in last 14 games
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Jordan Zimmermann (aka "JZ" for Players Weekend) stood in the visitors' clubhouse at Yankee Stadium three weeks ago and talked about commanding all of his pitches, allowing hitters to put balls in play and letting his defense work for him. The Tigers' right-hander had just tossed seven shutout innings against one of the hottest teams in baseball, making big pitches with two outs. He was enjoying his best stretch as a Tiger since his torrid opening month in 2016, before his neck issues.

"I felt good," Zimmermann said at the time. "I was able to throw a ton of strikes and command the ball well, so it was probably right up there. I'm feeling good right now. Hopefully it continues."

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DETROIT -- Jordan Zimmermann (aka "JZ" for Players Weekend) stood in the visitors' clubhouse at Yankee Stadium three weeks ago and talked about commanding all of his pitches, allowing hitters to put balls in play and letting his defense work for him. The Tigers' right-hander had just tossed seven shutout innings against one of the hottest teams in baseball, making big pitches with two outs. He was enjoying his best stretch as a Tiger since his torrid opening month in 2016, before his neck issues.

"I felt good," Zimmermann said at the time. "I was able to throw a ton of strikes and command the ball well, so it was probably right up there. I'm feeling good right now. Hopefully it continues."

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It didn't. The way he has pitched lately, including in Wednesday's 10-2 loss to the Yankees at Comerica Park, makes that game feel like months ago rather than weeks. And yet, that remains the last victory by a Detroit starter other than Justin Verlander. It's also the last time the Tigers won a series.

For the third time in just over a week, the Tigers will go into a series finale hoping to avoid a sweep. The way the last week has gone, though, they need innings from their starting pitching as badly as they need wins. With seven runs allowed over five innings, Zimmermann left such a lopsided affair that Chad Bell covered the final four innings before being optioned to Triple-A Toledo to bring in a fresh arm.

"It's not a lot of fun when you're giving up runs," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "It's been the same thing. It's been a combination of not throwing strikes and giving up home runs, and usually those things go hand in hand. You don't get ahead of hitters, you put them at an advantage. We've got to execute pitches.

"Recently, other than [Michael] Fulmer and Verlander -- and both of them had rough starts in Texas -- our starters are having trouble getting into the sixth inning. Then you tack on that we have an inexperienced bullpen that gets a little bit taxed because they're being used. That's not a recipe for winning."

Fulmer, who starts Thursday, gave Detroit a chance at a win last Saturday, but took a loss with an unearned run. Even so, Tigers starters other than Verlander are 0-10 with a 9.52 ERA in 14 games since Zimmermann's win.

Zimmermann's struggles have been particularly concerning. His gem at Yankee Stadium was the second of three consecutive quality starts. He's given up seven runs in each of his next three starts, the first Tiger to do so since Tommy Bridges in June 1935. But Bridges had the excuse of pitching extra innings in two of those games -- 12 in one outing, 13 in another.

"I'm scuffling right now, and scuffling bad," Zimmermann said, "and the last three outings I did absolutely nothing to help this team win. Nobody feels worse for Chad Bell than me. Obviously I have to go out there and do a better job. He's been pitching great, and because our bullpen's so beat up, he's gotta go down."

Zimmermann's struggles were enough last start that he moved to the other side of the pitching rubber in the middle of the game, just trying to change things up. That didn't work for him Wednesday, and he's left searching for answers.

"It's just the command right now," he said. "I have no clue where it went or what the problem is, but I'm going to go back to the drawing board and keep searching. That's all you can do."

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