PITTSBURGH -- Nick Castellanos doubled, homered and drove in four runs to back up Jordan Zimmermann's scoreless start as the Tigers beat the Pirates, 7-4, on Thursday afternoon at PNC Park.
Castellanos doubled in two runs off Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole in the fourth inning and ripped a two-run homer to left field off setup man Tony Watson in the eighth. Pittsburgh had rallied for three runs in the seventh, pulling within a run, but Castellanos' line-drive shot sealed Detroit's third straight win against the Bucs.
It was the 10th time in Watson's six-year career, spanning 339 appearances, that the typically lights-out left-hander allowed three runs or more in one outing.
"I guess it just reminds you that these guys are human beings and they're not going to have a 0.00 ERA at the end of the season," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Couple elevated pitches and they made him pay. That lineup can swing the bat."
Zimmermann hasn't given up a run in either of his first two starts with the Tigers, although he had to work his way out of trouble in Thursday's six-inning outing. Zimmermann escaped two bases-loaded jams and stranded two other runners in scoring position. The Pirates finished the game 5-for-16 with men in scoring position, leaving 12 runners on base.
Cole pitched well after an admittedly "rusty" season debut, retiring the first nine Tigers hitters. Pittsburgh's ace allowed two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out five over six innings.
"I was much sharper today. Stuff was much more defined. We were able to work efficiently," Cole said. "We were able to get strikeouts when we needed to. It's just a good feeling when you can walk away knowing that you've improved from the last start."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Zimmermann works in traffic: Zimmermann hasn't allowed a bases-loaded walk since 2011, but he came within a ball of doing so twice in the fifth inning following three singles. Starling Marte worked the count full before popping out to second. Gregory Polanco, who had a 3-0 count, took a strike before popping out to end the threat.
"I couldn't locate the fastball for whatever reason and fell behind," Zimmermann said. "My slider was good and I can throw it whenever I want. I went with that. And then 3-1, bases loaded, I went with a backdoor slider and got him to pop up. Most guys, the heater's coming 3-1, and they go with their best pitch. But when you're comfortable throwing your slider and you can throw it for strikes when you want, why not go with it?"
Who's on first? Cole cruised through three perfect innings on 34 pitches to begin the game before running into trouble in the fourth. With two outs and Justin Upton on first base, Cole fired a pickoff throw to John Jaso at first base. Problem is, Jaso was playing behind the runner with a full count, so the ball skidded into foul territory and Upton wheeled around to third. Cole then walked J.D. Martinez, and Castellanos doubled home both runners.
"It was just a lack of communication on our part. We didn't communicate," Cole said. "I thought in the situation there with two outs, I might be able to catch Upton sleeping or at least keep him honest. ... I didn't think it affected the next at-bat."
Close call: Cole narrowly avoided a serious injury during the sixth inning, taking a glancing blow off the top of his head on Zimmermann's liner back up the middle. It knocked off Cole's cap on the way to center field for a single. Cole escaped unharmed, remained in the game to finish the inning and was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the frame. More >
Relay out: The Pirates had a couple threats going against the Tigers' bullpen Thursday, and they could've had a bigger one in the eighth inning if not for an out at the plate on a relay from right-center field on Andrew McCutchen's double. Tyler Collins' throw from deep center gave Ian Kinsler time to relay to Bobby Wilson, who tagged Jaso just before he touched home plate. The play not only prevented a run, it saved precious pitches for Mark Lowe, who recorded for outs pitching his third game in four days. More >
"It's 10 games into the season. If this was game 160, maybe. But it's only 10 games." -- Josh Harrison, on the Pirates' struggles with runners in scoring position
"It's important, very important. This is a good team. They battled. They pitched well. Their bullpen is solid. And they can run. Coming in here and getting two is huge." -- Castellanos, on taking two from the Pirates in Pittsburgh, and three of four in the home-and-home series
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Zimmermann hasn't issued a bases-loaded walk in 131 starts since Aug. 28, 2011, when he walked Cincinnati's Fred Lewis to drive in Ryan Hanigan. He hasn't given up back-to-back walks in an inning since the seventh inning of a May 6, 2012, start against the Phillies, a span of 125 starts.
WHAT'S NEXT Tigers: The three-city road trip continues in Houston, where the Tigers open a three-game series against the Astros on Jackie Robinson Day on Friday at 8:10 p.m. ET. Mike Pelfrey will try to rebound from his tough Tigers debut last weekend while the lineup takes its swings against Astros ace Dallas Keuchel, making his first home start of the year after going 15-0 at Minute Maid Park last season.
Pirates: Left-hander Jeff Locke will make his second start of the season as the Pirates welcome the Brewers to PNC Park at 7:05 p.m. ET on Friday on Jackie Robinson Day. Locke put together a solid season debut, holding the Reds to one run on seven hits over six innings. Last season, the lefty went 3-2 with a 3.45 ERA in five starts against the Brewers.