DETROIT -- Jordan Zimmermann's strong start in his first season in Detroit has helped stabilize an otherwise inconsistent Tigers rotation. On Sunday, after Zimmermann left his latest start with a right groin strain, the Tigers have to figure out their options for moving along without him if he misses much time.
The Tigers still picked up the 9-4 win, their sixth victory in seven games, but any loss of Zimmermann could be bigger to their season hopes. He spent Sunday afternoon undergoing an MRI exam to determine the severity of the strain. What the reading shows could determine whether the Tigers put him on the disabled list or make any roster move at all.
"You certainly don't want to see a guy who's been your best pitcher all year get injured," manager Brad Ausmus said, "but we'll reserve judgment until we find out exactly what it is. We know it's the groin, but we don't know how severe."
Zimmermann had retired 12 consecutive Rays batters before Evan Longoria extended the sixth inning with a two-out infield single. Zimmermann grimaced on his ensuing pitch to Steve Pearce, prompting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to call for head athletic trainer Kevin Rand and Ausmus.
Zimmermann left without a test throw. Drew VerHagen took his place.
The Tigers have three games left on their nine-game homestand, followed by an off-day Thursday before heading out on a six-game, two-city West Coast trip. That off-day gives them the flexibility to skip Zimmermann's slot in the rotation for a couple days and start others on their normal four days' rest until next Tuesday against the Angels.
By then, the Tigers could have another injured starter on the way back, depending on how Shane Greene fares in his second rehab start. He's scheduled to pitch Wednesday for Triple-A Toledo as he works back from a blister on his right middle finger that forced him onto the disabled list in late April.
Detroit has used top prospect Michael Fulmer for a handful of starts to fill in for Greene. Fulmer's seven strong innings Saturday against the Rays impressed enough people to ask if the Tigers have a tough decision coming up when Greene is ready to return. Fulmer could simply shift from filling in for Greene to filling in for Zimmermann if need be.
Simply having a pitcher to fill in, however, doesn't necessarily mean the void is filled. It took the groin injury to end Zimmermann's streak of eight consecutive starts of at least six innings, and four in a row of seven or more innings. By contrast, the Tigers have received just two seven-inning starts this season from pitchers other than Zimmermann or Justin Verlander: They've gotten one each from Fulmer and Anibal Sanchez.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.