Detroit — It wasn’t do-or-die — there’s way too much baseball left to be played this season for that.
And yet, after losing four straight, on the verge of being swept at home by Central Division-rival Chicago, with the defending division champion Indians coming in for four games — it was vital for the Tigers to apply a tourniquet before things got serious.
“This is an important win, absolutely,” said catcher Alex Avila after the Tigers beat the White Sox 7-3 in the series finale Sunday. “It is early. I am the first one to tell you that. I don't worry about struggling a bit early on. But you don't want to get swept.
“That's the big thing. So this is an important game. And with the Indians coming in, it's an important series. AL Central rivals, you've got to win those games in order to win your division.”
The Tigers, who had averaged 5.75 hits over the four previous games, banged out 14 on Sunday, all against White Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez, who came in with a 3-0 record and a 2.00 ERA.
They broke the game open with a four-run fourth inning. Nine hitters came to the plate and they came to eat — they saw a total of 14 pitches, attacking the first strike they saw.
Which was not by design.
“The idea is you’re looking for a pitch to hit, a pitch you can drive,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “If it happens to be early in the count, it’s early in the count. Certainly, with men in scoring position, you’re not up there taking, because it might be the best pitch you get to hit. We were just able to string some together.”
The Tigers started the inning with four straight hits, including an RBI double by Jim Adduci.
John Hicks singled in a run. Jose Iglesias and Nick Castellanos also had RBIs in the inning. Avila had one of his three hits and scored a run.
“It was just being able to barrel up the balls early in the count,” Avila said. “It wasn't like we said, 'Let's try to attack early in the count.' It just happened to be that way.
“Hitting is contagious, like anything else in this game. It was a good inning. We hadn't swung the bats like that since the first game against Seattle.”
Avila is hitting .405 on the season, with a .511 on-base percentage.
“Just trying to put a good swing on balls in the zone and hitting it hard,” he said. “Really, there hasn't been any change or anything like that. Just trying to swing at good pitches.”
The Tigers built a 7-2 cushion after five innings for starter Jordan Zimmermann.
Justin Upton had two hits, including his fifth home run of the season. Iglesias, who had been in an 0-for-11 drought, had a single, double and three RBIs. Castellanos had three hits and an RBI.
“It was a good offensive day,” Ausmus said. “We’ve been a little quiet with the bats. We scored a couple in the ninth yesterday, so maybe that was the turning point. It was much better today and the pitching held on.”
Zimmermann improved his record to 3-1, but it was easily the most encouraging of his starts this season. He gave the Tigers five solid innings before leaving in the sixth after allowing a leadoff home run to Todd Frazier.
He yielded three runs on seven hits with five strikeouts.
“It was much better,” he said. “Went back and looked at some old film. When I was hurt last year, and even this spring, I totally switched up my mechanics, not knowing. I went back and tried to fix it this last bullpen, and tried to take it to the mound today.
“It was much better, and I felt a lot more comfortable out there. I was throwing more strikes, and getting more swings and misses than I had been. Definitely a step in the right direction, and something to build on.”
That’s how Avila saw it to — something to build on.
“It was definitely an improvement, just in the sharpness of his pitches today,” he said. “His command is still, at times, not what he wants it to be. I think that'll come with more starts.
“One, it's the first start after the adjustments he's made. Plus, missing as much time as he did last year, I think he's going to get better and better with each start.”
The Tigers bullpen closed it out in good fashion. Blaine Hardy, Shane Greene, Alex Wilson and Francisco Rodriguez worked four scoreless innings, one each, allowing one hit and one walk with six strikeouts.
Now come the Indians, who've won four of their last five. Avila, though, said there’s no sense in sweating the standings this early.
“Right now teams are going through trying to figure out what they have, trying to get guys who are struggling going, trying to get pitchers going, trying to get into the rhythm of a season,” he said. “There is a difference between playing a month of spring training and starting a six-month journey. All teams are going through that right now.
“The other thing is, a lot of these teams are pretty good, so we're kind of beating up on each other.”