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Strike-throwing Zimmermann pitches Tigers past Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jordan Zimmermann kept throwing strike after strike, at a near-record pace.
Zimmermann picked up his first victory in seven starts, and Nicholas Castellanos and Mikie Mahtook hit two-run homers as the Detroit Tigers beat the sputtering Kansas City Royals 10-2 Monday night.
Zimmermann threw 79 strikes in 97 pitches. His 81 percent strike rate was the highest by a major league starter since 2008. The records go back to 1988, and he posted the best mark by a Tigers starter in that span.
"I looked up in the fourth or fifth and saw how many balls I threw and couldn't hardly believe it," said Zimmermann, who threw first-pitch strikes to 24 of 28 batters, 85.7 percent.
He did not throw two consecutive pitches out of the strike zone until facing Alcides Escobar with two outs in the fourth.
Staked to a 6-0 lead after three innings, Zimmermann filled up the zone. He allowed one run on seven hits over 6 2/3 innings. He walked none, hit a batter and struck out seven.
"Those guys scored a ton of runs early, so I was able to pound the zone," Zimmermann said. "They're a pretty aggressive team. Obviously, I was throwing strikes, too."
Zimmermann (6-7) claimed his first victory since June 3. He was 0-3 with three no-decisions in his previous six starts. He is 3-0 and with a 1.26 ERA in four career starts at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals (45-46) have lost six of seven. The Tigers (42-49) won their third straight.
Victor Martinez reached base four times with three hits and a walk. He also drove in three Detroit runs and scored twice.
Zimmermann was removed after Whit Merrifield's double in the seventh scored Ramon Torres, a pinch runner for Alcides Escobar, who was hit by a pitch in the left wrist.
"It hit him on the wrist, deadened it, numbed it," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He's OK. He'll probably play tomorrow. He's feeling much better. He's fine."
Escobar has started in a club-record 262 consecutive games, all at shortstop.
While Zimmermann was sharp, Royals left-hander Jason Vargas was anything but.
Vargas (12-4) was pulled after a season-low 2 2/3 innings. He allowed six runs and seven hits, and his ERA rose from 2.62 to 3.06.
"I wasn't really competitive at all," Vargas said. "I left a lot of pitches over the middle, very similar the last time out in Seattle. I just wasn't able to get out of the innings. I really didn't give us much to work with.
"It's all about being able to get into a rhythm and into a rhythm in the strike zone. I just wasn't able to that apparently. Because of that, I left some pitches up and definitely I got punished for them."
Eric Hosmer homered, his 13th, on a 2-0 Warwick Saupold pitch to lead off the Kansas City eighth, cutting the deficit to 8-2.
Tigers right fielder J.D. Martinez left after six innings with lower back tightness. He was replaced by Alex Presley.
The Tigers wasted no time jumping out to a sizable lead and sending Vargas to the showers.
Detroit scored a run in the first inning when Victor Martinez walked with the bases loaded, bringing home Castellanos.
Detroit tacked on three more in second.
Ian Kinsler's triple scored Alex Avila, who led off the inning with a walk. Castellanos homered on a 2-2 Vargas pitch to straightaway center with Kinsler aboard.
Vargas gave up a two-run blast in the third to Mahtook that traveled an estimated 445 feet to left-center field after Victor Martinez opened the inning with a single. After Kinsler's second triple, manager Ned Yost pulled Vargas with two outs.
Vargas entered the game with American League-best 1.84 ERA at home this season.
Scott Alexander replaced Vargas and gave up a run in the fourth when Victor Martinez's two-out single scored Justin Upton.
With Vargas out and the Royals down big early, it was Zimmermann's cue to flood the strike zone.
"He's been around long enough to know when you have a lead to throw strikes," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said.
NOTES: The Royals optioned OF Jorge Soler and RHP Miguel Almonte to Triple-A Omaha. Soler was hitless in his last 17 at-bats. RHP Neftali Feliz came off the paternity list and allowed two runs and four hits in the ninth inning. ... CF Billy Burns was recalled from Omaha and made a spectacular diving catch in the seventh to rob Justin Upton of a hit. ... Tigers RF J.D. Martinez was named the AL player of the week after hitting .455 with a 1.591 OPS. The Royals showed their respect by intentionally walking him in the first inning to load the bases. ... The Tigers improved to 40-25 when they homer. ... The Royals fell to 13-22 against AL Central opponents. ... Tigers LHP Matthew Boyd and Royals LHP Travis Wood are the Tuesday probables.