DETROIT — Jordan Zimmermann doesn't have much time left to recapture his early season magic. If he can, the Detroit Tigers' rotation should be strong enough to finish off their playoff push.
Zimmermann, signed away from the Washington Nationals as a free agent, went 5-0 with an 0.55 ERA in April and was named the American League's Pitcher of the Month. A minor groin injury forced him to miss a late May start and he was generally ineffective in June before he was sidelined with a neck strain.
He returned for one August start, suffered a setback in that 1 2/3-inning outing, and went back on the 15-day disabled list. Following another lengthy rehab stint, Zimmermann returns. He'll start the second contest of a pivotal three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.
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The Tigers tied the Orioles for the second wild-card spot with a 4-3 victory Friday.
“It's probably the worst feeling, knowing you've wasted two or three months and weren't able to pitch and help this team,” the veteran right-hander said Friday. “This first couple of months were really good and probably better than I expected. The last two or three have been horrible, so hopefully I can turn it around for the last half a month and finish strong.”
Zimmermann (9-5), who expects to throw approximately 90 pitches if the start goes well, is getting thrust right into the heat of the pennant chase.
“I feel like I've been around long enough that I can be thrown into a situation like this and be able to handle it,” he said. “Some other guys, they might not trust. I feel like I've done enough in my career that they should be able to trust me and put me into this spot.”
Zimmermann's fastball reached only the low 90s in last rehab start, which didn't surprise him.
“I'm not sure if my velocity will be back this year,” said Zimmermann, who is 2-3 with a 4.54 ERA in six career starts against Baltimore. “I've had so many ups and downs, and it's down just a tick right now. Hopefully, the more I get out there, the more it's going to come back. But I feel strong, I feel like I can locate pretty good, so we'll see.”
Zimmermann will be opposed by Ubaldo Jiminez (6-11), who is coming off his best outing of the season. He tossed his first complete game since 2011 against Tampa Bay, holding the Rays to three runs on two hits in the 7-3 victory.
“It was fun to watch,” said Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman, who is expected to come off the DL and start Sunday's finale. “He was pretty dialed in from the get go. He was able to command all his pitches. His stuff is good enough, he just has trouble commanding it sometimes. But from the get go, he established his fastball on both sides and everything played off of that.”
Jiminez is 5-11 with a 5.68 ERA in 20 starts against Detroit.
The Orioles are in the thick of the race despite having the 11th-best ERA in the American League while issuing the most walks in the league.
“We kind of enjoy having people scratch their head about us,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We get it. In the clubhouse, everybody gets it. A lot of people that are just crunching the numbers don't get it. And I'm OK with that.”