By: Will Burchfield
Jordan Zimmermann was cruising along on Friday night, his pitch count at 80 through seven innings and the Tigers leading the Astros 5-3, when Brad Ausmus called on Bruce Rondon to start the eighth.
Three batters later, the Tigers were behind.
Rondon allowed successive singles before serving up a towering three-home run to Josh Reddick that was the difference in the Astros’ 6-5 win.
“Two base hits and a homer — kind of put the damper on the night,” Zimmermann said.
Said Ausmus of his decision, “Zimm had pretty much done his job, he’d gone seven innings. He was coming back around the lineup, though, another time. Rondon has done a pretty decent job for us in the eighth inning.”
The manager said his gut told him it was time to yank Zimmermann, despite his favorable pitch count.
“The more hitters see guys, the better chance they have against him. Zimm did an outstanding job for seven innings. His job was done, his night was over,” Ausmus said.
Interestingly, Zimmermann’s numbers this season have improved as the game wears on. His batting average against the first time through the order is .325, the second time through .305 and the third time through .288.
Ausmus said he didn’t ask Zimmermann how he felt when he came off the mound after the seventh. Nor did he get any indication from the veteran pitcher that he wanted to stay in the game.
Then again, that’s not Zimmermann’s way.
“I’m never gonna argue with him. I’d like to stay out there but we got a lot of fresh arms in the bullpen and guys with electric stuff,” Zimmermann said. “It just didn’t work out tonight.”
Zimmermann doesn’t concern himself with how many times he’s gone through an opposing batting order.
“Not at all,” he said.
He didn’t feel gassed after the seventh.
“Not really,” he said.
Ausmus didn’t consult him between innings.
“He didn’t check on me,” Zimmermann said.
Still, he more or less understood the skipper’s decision.
“I think he might have seen my velo go down a little bit the last couple innings. We did have some long innings early in the game, which takes a toll on a starting pitcher, and he probably saw I wasn’t as sharp as I would like to be,” said Zimmermann. “I was battling all night, so he went to a fresh arm.
“I was happy to make it through seven with only three runs with the stuff I had, to be honest with you.”
Ausmus called on Rondon because the hard-throwing righty has been the Tigers’ primary setup man since being recalled late last month.
“He’s had plenty of high-leverage situations. He’s pitched the eighth inning since he came back, which goes back to San Diego in June,” Ausmus said.
Of course, in that span, Rondon entered the game with a 6.75 ERA. It’s now up to 9.00.
Ausmus also saw it as a chance for Rondon to bounce back after an ugly outing on Wednesday in which he seemed to intentionally plunk the Royals’ Mike Moustaskas, causing both benches and bullpens to clear, and allowed three runs in one-third of an inning.
“I felt like this gave him an opportunity to redeem himself,” Ausmus said.
“When Bruce is into the outing he’s a lot more effective,” he added, “and I was hoping it gave him some incentive.”
Friday marked the third straight appearance for Rondon in which he yielded at least two runs and failed to pitch a full inning. It remains to be seen if he’ll stick with the Tigers moving forward, much less in the setup role.
“Right now, he’s on our team,” said Ausmus. “If he’s on our team I gotta use him.”
Rondon has had issues with his weight and his behavior in the past, and the Tigers have to be growing weary of his volatile performance. What’s more, one has to wonder if he still has the good graces of his teammates after inciting an unnecessary flare-up on Wednesday night.
“You’d have to ask them,” said Ausmus. “I don’t wanna answer for them.”
Asked if he has the autonomy within the front office to potentially suggest that Rondon should be released or sent down to the minors, Ausmus said, “Yeah, I would have that input.”
But he wouldn’t say whether the Tigers are considering such a move.
“As always, if there’s a change, I’m not gonna visit here (with the media) before I visit it with a player,” Ausmus said.
Does Ausmus feel like his hands are tied in regard to Rondon’s place on the roster?
“Not at all,” he said.