DETROIT -- Two starting pitchers Detroit was counting on to be rotation mainstays entering the season have been relative non-contributors the last two months but the Tigers are counting on one of them, Mike Pelfrey, to give them a chance to win a game Thursday that will keep them in the playoff hunt.
Pelfrey (4-9, 4.76 ERA) hasn't started since July 31 due to a bad back. He was activated to pitch out of the bullpen Sept. 5 but has not been in a game since his last start.
"He can't throw many more than 60 or so pitches," manager Brad Ausmus said Wednesday. "So that'll definitely be a game that involves the bullpen."
Pelfrey was signed by Detroit to a two-year deal worth $11 million as a free agent after Minnesota let him go last winter.
He has faced the Twins three times in his career with a 1-0 record and 5.28 ERA. Two of those starts came with the Tigers this season but he didn't win or lose either game.
Zimmermann has made just two starts for Detroit since the end of June and both were bad.
But three pitchers acquired by former GM Dave Dombrowski at the trade deadline in 2015 -- Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd -- have firmed up Detroit's rotation.
"To me the most surprising part of our season," Ausmus said, "is that for a good chunk of the year we've had three rookies in the rotation and we have 18 games left and we're playing for a playoff spot.
"That is not a recipe, generally, for playing for a playoff spot, having three rookies in the rotation."
Minnesota counters with left-hander Hector Santiago (11-8, 4.75 ERA). Santiago has made seven of his previous 29 starts this season with the Twins after being acquired from the Los Angeles Angels.
He pitched against Detroit on May 31 while with Los Angeles, allowing six runs in 6 2/3 innings. Lifetime, Santiago is 1-4 with a 3.09 ERA in nine starts and seven relief appearances.
The Twins hope to have first baseman Joe Mauer, a career .303 hitter against the Tigers, available for action for the afternoon game.
Mauer hasn't played since Saturday due to a sore quad.
"Joe could have pinch-hit," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said after the Twins blew a 5-2 lead and lost, 9-6, to Detroit on Wednesday. "I was going to use him there in a one- or two-run game, depending on how it was going to come up.
"But when it got to three I decided to hold on just in case we got a couple baserunners. (Eddie) Rosario was available too."
"The last three or four weeks I have had to back off three or four times," Mauer said.
Both Mauer and Rosario could be back in the lineup Thursday.