Chicago — It looked safe, scripted, and invulnerable even to the Tigers bullpen.
It wasn’t. But it didn’t matter.
That lead to which a first-time pitcher in the big leagues, Kyle Ryan, staked his team Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Field held up in the end as the Tigers outlasted a late-innings meltdown and beat the White Sox, 8-4, to gain a split of their day-night doubleheader.
The Tigers lost the first game, 6-3, as White Sox gunslinger Chris Sale bested Max Scherzer.
“He was never in a boiling pot,” said Brad Ausmus, the Tigers manager whose team needed a long shift from Ryan, and got it, as he worked six in-control innings. “He remained calm and didn’t do what so many young pitchers do — let the game speed up on him.”
Ryan, 22, and a left-hander whose pitches travel safely within the speed limit, kept the White Sox in a knot as he spun 88-mph cutters and “slurves” — his self-described combination of curveball and slider – that held the White Sox to five hits. He got ground balls galore. He kept his pitch-count reasonable.
“The number of right-hand batters that were late on his fastball tells me they were having trouble picking it up,” Ausmus said. “He’s got a funky delivery where he turns his back to hitters.
“There’s deception to his delivery. It creates issues for hitters.”
Befitting the finesse artist he was reputed to be, Ryan struck out one batter and walked two. He lived off the ground ball and for the most part stayed away from three-ball counts as he threw 97 pitches (60 strikes).
“If it went any smoother, it would have been a no-hitter,” Ryan said, joking at the nerves a big league pledge was asked to handle. “I just tried to stay down in the zone.
“Every debut is probably like that. There are nerves. But get ’em under control and stick with it.”
Saturday’s start was particularly precious to Ausmus and the Tigers for its length. The team needed deep innings on a day schedule jam-ups (necessitated by an earlier rainout) and too many pitching injuries put the Tigers in position to blow a bullpen gasket had relievers gotten involved too early.
Of course, the bullpen came unglued anyway in the eighth — not a surprise to Tigers Nation — when the White Sox scored four times. Jim Johnson got into trouble when he relieved Blaine Hardy and a mess got messier when Joba Chamberlain was lashed for a long, opposite-field homer to right-center.
What had been a 5-0 runaway for the Tigers turned into a 5-4 game that looked as if it might be the trailer for another of Detroit’s 2014 relief corps horror flicks.
But that was before the Tigers added three runs in the ninth on singles by Ian Kinsler, Nick Castellanos, and Alex Avila, capped by Don Kelly’s double, a surge aided by Victor Martinez being hit by a pitch, and by a sacrifice fly from J.D. Martinez.
Ryan, though, was a story so good — and so vital to the Tigers’ needs — that not even the bullpen’s late antics could seriously dent his debut.
“I can’t say I expected to do that,” he said of his inaugural act, which kept the White Sox’s maulers, principally Jose Abreu, from lighting up a rookie in a hitter’s park. “I just wanted to go out and show ’em what I could do. There was work to do and I wanted to get it done.”
After the game Ryan was optioned back to Triple A Toledo, strictly because of Saturday’s roster overload. But he will be recalled Tuesday as rosters get their traditional September add-ons.
The Tigers had better luck against another big league newborn, White Sox starter Chris Bassitt, who like Ryan arrived for Saturday’s game fresh from the minor leagues.
They got five runs in a blitz that spanned the third and fourth innings. Kinsler, who finished the night with three singles and three RBIs, was part of the early surge, as was Rajai Davis, who had an RBI single. Miguel Cabrera knocked in a run on an infield ground out before leaving the game in the fourth because of his chronically sore ankle.
Joe Nathan finished the game with an easy ninth. It didn’t erase a tattered eighth, but on a day the Tigers worried about bad weather (it didn’t materialize) and kid pitchers who were in danger of blowing up an already flammable bullpen, Ausmus and his gang gladly took the victory and the Saturday split.
In baseball, especially this season of baseball, the team from Detroit doesn’t get greedy.