Zimmermann: Feel good, command an issue

Zimmermann: Feel good, command an issue

DETROIT -- The crowd was still settling into the seats at Comerica Park when Jordan Zimmermann delivered his first pitch since Aug. 4. Perhaps that's why there was barely a reaction when Orioles leadoff hitter Adam Jones put the pitch into the Tigers' bullpen beyond the left-field fence.

Zimmermann's night didn't get any better from there. By the time he threw his 42nd and final pitch of the evening, ball four to Jones with nobody out in the next inning, the crowd was restless, Zimmermann was embarrassed, and the Tigers were on their way to an 11-3 loss to the Orioles on Saturday night that knocked the Tigers out of the second American League Wild Card spot.

For the second time in five weeks, Zimmermann returned from the disabled list with a disastrous outing and a second-inning exit. Last time, he went back on the DL and admitted he probably came back too soon. This time, he's insisting the right neck strain that essentially cost him over two months feels healthy.

"I feel good. I feel like I'm back to my old self," Zimmermann said. "I just wasn't able to locate pitches. It's pretty embarrassing going out there and going one-plus innings, and giving up six runs."

For the Tigers, it has to be more nerve-wracking than embarrassing. Zimmermann's return has been a significant part of their late-season plans, from their decision to stand pat at the non-waiver Trade Deadline and beyond to their timetable for pushing back Michael Fulmer and tempering his innings uptick from last season.

Fulmer is still going to get extended rest before his next start, manager Brad Ausmus said. Whether and when Zimmermann gets another start is another issue, even if he's healthy.

"That's something we'll discuss," Ausmus said. "We haven't decided yet."

Zimmermann tried to guard expectations going into the start, noting his velocity was a tick down from his usual levels after all the stops and starts to his season, and that all he could do was give it his all. But a recurrence of last time seemed out of the question after three rehab starts at Triple-A Toledo, despite a rough outing in the third one.

"There was nothing that would indicate that we shouldn't go forward with what was planned," Ausmus said.

Zimmermann's fastball registered at 91-92 mph on Saturday. His downfall was the location, and the velocity with which the Orioles hit his pitches. Chris Davis hit an 0-2 fastball out to left-center for a two-run homer after Jones went deep earlier in the first. Matt Wieters fouled off a 91-mph fastball to fall into a 1-2 count, then connected with a 90-mph heater for a drive out to right.

"The command was probably more of it," Ausmus said. "In talking to [Jarrod Saltalamacchia], the ball was leaking back over the plate. And big league hitters, especially a club like this, if it's in the middle of the plate, they're going to take advantage."

Said Zimmermann: "I just wasn't locating with the fastball. I was trying for the corner and I'd miss five inches off or five inches down the middle. It was just one of those days where I'd get two strikes and I'd try to throw a pitch up and in, like the one that Chris Davis hit, and it ran back middle. Wieters, I tried doing the same thing and it ran back middle. With a lineup like this, it's going to be a long night when you're doing that."

Actually, it was a short night on the mound. The longer part might be the discussion on what's next. The Tigers have not announced a starter for next Thursday's series finale against Minnesota. More importantly, they still have a postseason race

"We need to win games," Ausmus said. "So, we'll decide what's best to win games."

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.