Jurrjens dominates in Detroit debut
Rookie helps Tigers move to within a half-game of Tribe
DETROIT -- The fans were hoping for a show from Joel Zumaya. They saw quite an opening act from Jair Jurrjens.
When the 21-year-old lasted seven innings in his Major League debut last week at Cleveland, he said he was living the dream pitching in the Majors. When the Tigers went to Yankee Stadium last weekend, he stepped on the field and was awed. He couldn't have anticipated how it would feel to pitch at home.
As he walked off the mound at Comerica Park on Tuesday night after 6 2/3 innings of one-hit ball, leaving with a 2-1 lead that would stand up over the Indians, the sellout crowd stood up and gave a roaring ovation. Some were looking toward the left-field corner, where Zumaya was coming of the bullpen. Others were looking right at Jurrjens.
They might not have been able to pronounce his name, but they could appreciate his game.
"It's the best feeling ever," Jurrjens said. "It's awesome. To have a big crowd like this standing up for you is the best feeling. It's crazy. ... I saw that last year on TV when [Jeremy Bonderman] and [Kenny] Rogers threw in the playoffs."
The way he's pitching right now, he might well have a say in whether the Tigers reach the postseason again. And the team that surged to the World Series last year on the strength of talented young pitchers used another to climb within a half-game in the American League Central.
"We have a lot of good pitchers, man, in the Minor Leagues," catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. "He's one."
Jurrjens is the latest to get his shot, but he seems to be running with it. Depending on whether Rogers comes back from elbow problems, the Tigers might need him to.
Jurrjens' debut against the Indians was more effective than the outcome, but Fausto Carmona overpowered the Tigers that night. Jurrjens pitched well enough to warrant another shot, but he'd have to face the Indians again to do it.
"Every game, I take it differently," Jurrjens said.
Jurrjens was the same aggressive pitcher he was in Cleveland, firing away with fastballs on the corners and working ahead in counts. But with Rodriguez behind the plate, he added a different mix.
"I thought the location of the fastball [was important]," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, "but I thought Pudge did a tremendous job of mixing in the breaking balls and the changeups. He basically threw mostly all fastballs the first time around. Had he done that tonight, his task would've been a little bit different.
"He did hang a few breaking balls, but at least he was using it, and I thought Pudge did a great job calling that game. I thought that was one of the better games he's called all year."
The variety might've been different, but the quick outs were the same -- eight pitches to retire the side in the second, seven in the third, nine in the fourth.
"I just came out throwing strikes, let themselves get out, let my infield do the job," Jurrjens said.
Said Rodriguez: "That's what you have to do against a lineup like that -- change the eye level on every hitter -- in, out, up, down, changeup, fastball, breaking ball. We pretty much used everything. When you have a pitcher that has three quality pitches for strikes, he makes my job easy."
Carmona, meanwhile, was even better in the rematch. He retired the side in order for five innings and didn't allow a ball out of the infield for 11 batters in a row, but Jurrjens kept pace.
An hour into the game, neither team had a hit through the first 4 1/2 innings and both pitchers had faced the minimum number of batters. Jurrjens' walks to Kenny Lofton leading off the game and Travis Hafner in the fifth comprised the only baserunners. Both were retired on double plays.
Carmona's 1-0 pitch to Magglio Ordonez leading off the bottom of the fifth changed the course. It was Carmona's typical mid-90s fastball with bite, but just high enough that Ordonez sent it deep to right field.
Three pitches later, Carlos Guillen lined another Carmona two-seamer well into the right-field stands for his 16th homer on the season.
"That was a little more reminiscent of last year, to be honest with you," Leyland said. "Good start. Things fall right once in a while for you when you make your moves. And then we hit a couple over the fence. When we do that, we usually have a pretty good chance to win a game."
Jurrjens came out for the sixth with a 2-0 lead, a surge of adrenaline that showed in his fastball and a crowd anticipating what could've been the Tigers' second no-hitter of the season. Jhonny Peralta broke that up when he deposited a 1-2 pitch into the bullpen beyond left field for a solo homer.
That's all the damage Jurrjens, and the Tigers, would surrender. He walked two more hitters, including a four-pitch pass to Hafner with two outs in the sixth that brought out Leyland for the pitching change. Yet when he left, Jurrjens had thrown just 78 pitches, 50 for strikes.
"He hung a few breaking balls earlier that they popped up to the outfield, hit pretty high," Leyland said. "That's the only reason I made the move. I didn't want him to hang one to [Ryan] Garko and get a two-run homer. It's pretty hard to take a guy out that's got a one-hitter going, but Garko just missed one before off of him.
"He had done his job for the night. That's a potent lineup, and to hold that lineup, with all those left-handed hitters in there and good hitters from the right side, what more can you ask from the kid?"
Jurrjens got hugs and handshakes from his teammates on the mound, then the ovation on his way off of it. His biggest baseball moment up until then, he said, was as a teenager, getting the last two outs for Curacao in the Senior League World Series in Bangor, Maine.
He still remembers being greeted at the airport back home after that.
"Best feeling ever," he said. "Until now."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.