Tigers' bullpen preserves win in opener

Tigers' bullpen preserves win

DETROIT -- Kenny Rogers had a chance to avenge his former team for the loss it gave him in April. But the worst revenge wasn't his five-plus innings. It was making his former teammates face Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney after that.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland has had a few chances this year to make opposing batters go from the finesse of Rogers to the power of Zumaya. But rarely does he have the opportunity to follow that with Rodney, who can approach both extremes with his mid-90s fastball and low-80s changeup. Together, the trio shortened in a hurry what had seemed like a game at a snail's pace, helping the Tigers hold onto a 4-2 win over the Rangers on Thursday at Comerica Park.

Leyland rarely puts Zumaya and Rodney into the same game. They've shared the eighth-inning setup load, so when one is pitching, the other usually sits so he can be ready the next day.

But as Leyland has explained, too, the biggest out of the game isn't always in the eighth or ninth innings. When the Rangers loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth inning, putting the potential tying run at first base, he felt the biggest out was upon them. Zumaya, Rodney and Todd Jones were all going to have to work to bridge the late innings Thursday.

It was going to be a chore -- for the hitters.

"They're getting some different looks," Leyland said. "When you've got to go from Kenny Rogers to Joel Zumaya after two or three at-bats, that doesn't mean you won't get him, but it is an adjustment for guys."

Rogers compared it to his time a decade ago with the Yankees, when manager Joe Torre had a converted starter turned setup man he could go to in the sixth or seventh inning named Mariano Rivera.

"If he was fresh for that day, you weren't getting past the sixth inning," Rogers recalled. "And if you're fit with a lead, you're probably out of the game, because he couldn't wait. If it was a lead after the eighth, it was game over. Rivera was unbelievable. I know Torre was hoping that the starter would get in trouble, just so he could put Mo in. His stuff was just that electric.

"Zumaya's similar, without a doubt. When you've got that kind of talent down there, you're not worried about jams later in the game."

Thursday, however, was a little worrisome. Zumaya came out firing with fastballs, but had problems locating. Though his 3-1 fastball hit 100 mph, it missed high for ball four, giving Mark DeRosa an RBI without having to put the ball in play.

After a first-pitch ball to Ian Kinsler clocked at 101 mph, Zumaya received a mound visit from pitching coach Chuck Hernandez.

"I was jumping," Zumaya said. "It was causing my elbow to drop and get the ball up. Chuck came out, told me I was jumping a little bit, just stay back a little bit. Some balls were up, but I found the strike zone a lot better, though."

One fastball over the plate at 99 mph, and Zumaya -- pitching with his parents in the crowd in Detroit for the first time since last year's Futures Game -- was back in form. He jammed Kinsler into a pop out to third before racking up back-to-back strikeouts on Hank Blalock -- at 102 mph -- and Gerald Laird.

"I know sometimes when he gets the ball back, he turns around and I'm sure he takes a peek," Leyland said of the radar gun readings. "Shoot, if I could throw it 102, I'd look at it, too."

The more impressive strikeout might've come leading off the next inning. He put back-to-back offspeed pitches over the plate for strikes on rookie Nelson Cruz before blowing a 101 mph fastball past him.

By the time Rangers hitters could get up to speed with the switch from Rogers to Zumaya, he had finished his second inning of work and was out. Rodney gave them another adjustment in the eighth.

"All of a sudden, you see 95, not quite as hard as [Zumaya] throwing 100," Leyland said. "But then you see this one, which I think is the best changeup in the league."

Rodney retired the side in order on a strikeout and two groundouts. Jones worked the ninth for his 34th save, maintaining his share of the Major League lead with White Sox closer Bobby Jenks. Combined, the relief trio retired 11 of the Rangers' last 12 hitters following Zumaya's bases-loaded walk.

With that, Rogers (12-6) ended a personal six-game winless streak with his first victory since July 5 and his first win at Comerica Park since June 13. Though he battled his command with four walks, creating his own traffic on the basepaths and knocking him out in the sixth, only one of those walks came around to score.

Rogers said he had no score to settle against his former employers. Nonetheless, he avenged the loss the Rangers gave him in their last meeting, when they hit him around for five runs on 12 hits over 5 1/3 innings April 9 in Arlington.

"I had to make a little different game plan," Rogers said, "because these guys, they're one of the better-hitting teams in the league. I knew that if I didn't work inside with fastballs and get some strikes in there and pitch effectively in there, that it would be a long day. I walked a few more guys than I wanted to, but my approach and the sequence of my pitches, I liked more than I did the last time I faced them. It keeps them honest. But that's just Pitching 101."

Even with the adjustment, he was out earlier this time than he was in the April loss. The way Zumaya throws, however, that's fine with him.

"I'd go to him, too," he said. "His stuff is so impressive, sometimes you wonder how he leaves me out there or any of us as long as we do."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.