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Without his best stuff, Jordan Zimmermann delivered an effortless performance

Zimmermann met, and surpassed, all expectations in his team debut.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT -- It would have been nice were Jordan Zimmermann able to go nine innings, but seven was more than enough for the Detroit Tigers to wrap up their third consecutive win. On a day when the Tigers' starter didn't have his best stuff, the results masked that fact well and Detroit is now 3-0 to start the year.

Whether it was luck or skill, Zimmermann seemed to be in his element on Friday. And in a way, he was. He's played in blizzards during high school before, so starting a game in 38-degree weather wasn't really insurmountable odds.

"Pitching in this cold wasn't ideal conditions but I made it out (without damage) when I didn't have my best stuff," Zimmermann said. "And I still two-hit the Yankees -- or three-hit, whatever it was. Didn't have my best stuff and still went out there and gave the team seven (innings), so that was encouraging."

What wasn't there was his fastball command. He missed ... on several occasions, more so than he hit his mark. Luckily for the Tigers, New York couldn't get to him, try as they might. Several pitches landed nearly over the heart of the plate, and they resulted in harmless flyouts or popups. That was, in part, due to the numerous two-strike counts Zimmermann put the Yankees in, and a little bit of luck.

For as on-point as Zimmermann was with his offspeed, he was equally on the other side with his higher heat. Yet, it didn't matter because of how well his offspeed pitches were working. In every respect, his performance looked effortless. Because he felt like he could throw it however he wanted, Zimmermann toyed with the strike zone -- and the Yankees -- for seven innings.

It's the kind of reception the Tigers and its fans were hoping for. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus couldn't have hoped for a better outing, and were it later in the year, Ausmus said it's likely he would've let Zimmerman go until the ninth if he was still going strong.

"He actually used his changeup a little bit today against this left-handed lineup," Ausmus said. "But both his slider and his curveball can be very good. Sometimes he's told me that one may work and another may not during the course of the game. But when he has both he's been really good, so I'm assuming both were pretty good today."

Both were. Even a wild pitch in the seventh did nothing to tarnish a splendid outing -- one that ended with a swinging strikeout of Chase Headley. Even so, this early in the year Ausmus wasn't going to let Zimmermann's start carry on much longer -- Didi Gregorius was to be his last batter regardless of the outcome.

But Zimmermann needed backup from his defense with his not-so-great pitches, the squibblers and wandering popouts. Nick Castellanos was there to help with that from the get-go. However, catcher James McCann also contributed to that effort by easily throwing out Jacoby Ellsbury, who was trying to steal second base. The double plays didn't hurt, either.

"Every out is important," Ausmus said. "You're trying to get 27 outs and score more runs than the other team, so every out is at a premium. That was important early in the game. That throw by Mac (McCann) was outstanding. He's one of the better throwing catchers in the league."

Only three games into the season, it was an ideal opportunity to utilize relievers not named Mark Lowe and Francisco Rodriguez -- both of whom were warming at some point in the eighth and ninth innings. The less they have to be used, the better. Had the situation suddenly called for a save situation, Ausmus said he would have pulled Ryan -- or Wilson if it came to it -- without pause.

The defense, combined with a strong effort from the bullpen -- after Zimmermann left the field to a standing ovation -- handed the right-hander his first win as a Tiger. And that bullpen, the bullpen of angst among fans and team alike, was lights-out. Justin Wilson struck out two and issued a short-lived two-out walk in the eighth. With a four-run lead to work with, it was up to Kyle Ryan and an inkling of deception.

"He's got really late movement, especially on his sinker, so his cutter helps," Ausmus said. "They move in opposite directions. It makes it tough on the hitter when you got pitches that look the same coming out of the hand and moving in opposite directions, it can be very tough for a hitter."

That is a nice weapon to have in the bullpen. There may be a time later this year where Zimmermann goes the distance, but the effort he put forth was exactly what the Tigers needed to see for now. All told, it's a warm outlook for the team, despite the chilly temperatures in Detroit.