Detroit — This time, it was a lack of offense that contributed to another loss, this one 2-0 to the Minnesota Twins on Friday night.
It certainly wasn’t the starting pitching that was the cause of this Tigers defeat. Drew Smyly gave the Tigers a chance to win.
Relievers Al Alburquerque and Joba Chamberlain threw scoreless innings and kept the Tigers within a run.
Oh, there was Joe Nathan, whose struggles continued.
Nathan entered the top of the ninth inning and loaded the bases with two outs. A Eugenio Suarez error allowed Josh Willingham to reach base, opening the inning. With two outs, Nathan walked a batter and hit another to load the bases.
Eduardo Escobar walked in an 11-pitch battle, scoring Willingham, and forcing Nathan out of the game, serenaded by loud boos from the crowd of 39,811.
“We need Joe Nathan to pitch well,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “This wasn’t a save situation obviously but we need him to pitch well and close out games when called upon to do that.”
Phil Coke struck out Danny Santana to end the threat.
The Tigers were held to six hits by a combination of Twins starter Kyle Gibson and a pair of relievers.
“Give Gibson credit, he’s no pushover, he’s a good pitcher,” Ausmus said. “But we certainly had opportunities we didn’t do anything with.”
Gibson (6-5) has had an uneven season, thus far, but he baffled the Tigers, limiting them to five hits over seven shutout innings and outdueling Smyly (3-5), who happened to be celebrating his 25th birthday.
A happy birthday it wasn’t, nor was it another enjoyable evening for the Tigers (34-29), who’ve lost eight of their last 11 games and 14 of their last 21.
The only run the Twins would need came in the third inning.
Escobar, the ninth man in the batting order, hit a 1-2 pitch into the left-field grandstand, putting the Twins on the scoreboard.
It was Escobar’s second home run of the season — and the ninth Smyly has given up, tying him with Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer for most on the staff.
“You give up a hanging curveball to the No. 9 hitter, that stings a little bit,” Smyly said. “But I hung it up and he hit a home run and did what he should have.”
The Twins threatened to add more runs after Escobar’s home run.
Smyly walked Danny Santana, then with one out, Joe Mauer singled and Willingham walked, loading the bases.
But Smyly struck out Kendrys Morales and forced Oswaldo Arcia to line out, greatly minimizing the damage.
“It was nice to get out of that jam and go six (innings),” Smyly said.
Other than the third inning, Smyly was in control.
In six innings and 100 pitches of work, Smyly allowed four hits and the one run, while walking three and striking out two.
But the Tigers simply couldn’t get him any run support against Gibson, who was 2-5 with a 5.07 ERA over his last nine starts.
The Tigers put two men on in the third with two out, but Miguel Cabrera bounced back to Gibson to end the inning.
J.D. Martinez doubled with one out in the fourth, but was stranded there.
The best scoring opportunity the Tigers had came in the fifth inning.
Alex Avila and Andrew Romine singled to open the inning, and were advanced to third and second, respectively, when Ian Kinsler bunted them over.
Austin Jackson walked, loading the bases for Cabrera. But Cabrera bounced into a double play, ending the potential rally.
In the seventh, Avila doubled into the right-center gap with one out.
But pinch-hitter Torii Hunter and Kinsler both grounded to third, ending another potential threat.
“Obviously we’re frustrated in losing games,” outfielder Don Kelly said. “Especially getting shut out, that’s frustrating. We had opportunities, but just didn’t capitalize.”