MLB

Tigers-Pirates Preview

After dominating his first American League start, Jordan Zimmermann returns to a more familiar environment.

Uncharacteristically shaky in his season debut, Gerrit Cole seeks better results when matched opposite Zimmermann in Thursday's interleague game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers.

Following seven successful seasons in Washington, Zimmermann signed a five-year, $110 million contract in November to bolster a Tigers rotation that posted an AL-worst 4.78 ERA in 2015. The investment yielded an instant benefit when the two-time NL All-Star limited the New York Yankees to two singles and three walks over seven innings in a 4-0 victory in Friday's home opener.

"He's a bulldog," Tigers catcher James McCann told MLB's official website. "You saw the way he goes out and attacks hitters. He wants to let his defense work. I look forward to catching him some more."

None of Zimmermann's 70 wins with the Nationals came against Pittsburgh, however. He's lost both previous starts to the Pirates, including a 4-3 defeat at PNC Park on May 23, 2014, in which he allowed four runs in six innings.

While Zimmermann was in top form, Cole is still trying to get there after missing part of spring training with a rib cage injury and struggling in Saturday's outing in Cincinnati, where the Pittsburgh ace walked three and surrendered three runs over 4 2-3 innings of a 5-1 loss.

"I was just a little rusty," he said. "I'm going to have to do a little work.''

An interleague matchup could help Cole, tied for second in the NL with 19 wins last season, get untracked. He's won six of his last seven decisions against AL teams and owns a 7-2 record and 2.82 ERA in 11 career interleague starts.

The Pirates have won eight of Cole's last nine interleague assignments, including a 4-3 home win over Detroit on April 13, 2015 behind the All-Star's six innings of one-run ball and eight strikeouts.

Pittsburgh, though, enters the finale of this four-game home-and-home series in a rut, having lost four of five following a 4-0 start. After amassing 17 hits in Monday's 7-4 win in Detroit, the Pirates have just nine in losing the past two.

Backed by Jarrod Saltalamacchia's 100th career homer - a go-ahead grand slam off reliever Arquimedes Caminero in the sixth inning - Shane Greene combined with three relievers on a four-hitter in Wednesday's 7-3 Tigers' victory. The right-hander allowed two runs over six innings to earn his first major league win since May.

''It means a lot,'' said Greene, who underwent shoulder surgery in August, "but we're just trying to win ballgames.''

J.D. Martinez finished 2 for 4 with an RBI for Detroit (5-2) to extend his season-opening hitting streak to seven games. The outfielder, 13 for 29 during the run and 2 for 5 lifetime against Cole, was 4 for 5 with two RBIs in Tuesday's 8-2 win.

David Freese, 2 for 5 with a home run against Zimmermann, had two of Pittsburgh's four hits.

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