ST. PETERSBURG -- For all the praise heaped upon the Tigers' free-agent signing, Jordan Zimmermann's track record showed he wasn't as good as the dominant numbers he posted over his first month and a half with Detroit. Likewise, he isn't as bad as his numbers over the past month since returning from a groin strain. He wasn't as subpar Thursday as his numbers suggested, with six innings and four earned runs on nine hits.
Somewhere in the middle, there's a frontline pitcher who eats innings and consistently gives the team behind him a chance to win. Technically, Zimmermann kept the Tigers close enough for a ninth-inning rally and a comeback win Thursday, but making up a five-run deficit is probably not a reliable route to long-term success.
"I didn't pitch that bad," Zimmermann said later. "It's one of those games where a lot of freaky things happened."
A two-out popup that seemingly went over the catwalks and dropped in foul territory didn't help, nor did the bases-clearing bloop double for Nick Franklin later in the four-run third inning. Still, the fact that the hit came in an 0-2 count, as did the two-out infield single before it to continue the inning, continues a recent trend as Zimmermann tries to finish off hitters.
Five of the nine Rays hits off Zimmermann on Thursday night came in two-strike counts, as did seven of nine Cleveland hits in his previous start last weekend. That game, as in Thursday's one, he struggled at times for consistency with his slider. The righty threw 18 of 28 sliders for strikes vs. Tampa Bay, including three swings-and-misses, but also gave up two hits. He gave up three Cleveland hits off it with the same number of swings-and-misses.
"I think sometimes he comes across his body [with his delivery], and it's not as sharp," manager Brad Ausmus said.
Zimmermann was 7-2 with a 2.52 ERA in his first nine starts this season before suffering a groin strain that pushed him back for a turn. He owns a 6.43 ERA in six outings since, allowing 43 hits over 35 innings, with seven walks and 20 strikeouts. He allowed a .247 average and .642 OPS before the injury, and .309 and .880 since his return. Zimmermann's ground-ball/fly-ball ratio has actually improved, making the batting average jump a surprise, but his extra-base hits are out of form for him.
The bright side from Thursday was the way the veteran finished, retiring eight of his final nine batters, with only a bloop single as his damage.
"I'm just glad I was able to throw three scoreless at the end, keep the game as close as I could and give us a chance," Zimmermann said. "If we're going to get a win like that, I'll do that same outing every time."
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.