Players make BLM statement, then it's bombs away in Tigers' exhibition loss

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Cincinnati — Before a barrage of nine home run lit up the sky above Great American Ballpark Tuesday night, the Tigers and Reds paid homage to the Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality.

"We're united," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Our baseball team is united and baseball, in general, is united on what we're trying to do, to make a statement about what's been happening in this country."

Four Reds players, including Joey Votto, knelt during the playing of the national anthem. The Tigers took a different tack. More than half the team stayed in the dugout during the anthem.

"We had a meeting and we decided what we wanted to do," said Tigers' shortstop Niko Goodrum. "And that's what we decided, just to stay in for the anthem and then come out ready to play ball."

Gardenhire was 100 percent on board with it.

Cincinnati Reds' Eugenio Suarez (7) celebrates hitting a two-run home run with Joey Votto (19) during the eighth inning.

"I believe in my guys," he said. "I told them, 'Take a stand. Do what you've got to do.' I've got no problem with it whatsoever. And I have no problem with those guys on the other side who knelt. It didn't bother me one bit.

"They are kneeling for a reason, there's a good reason. So we're united and baseball is united and we're going to stay that way."

The tiny stadium and the hot night air made for a combustible mix, as the Reds outslugged the Tigers 9-7 in the first of two exhibition games. 

"The ball flies here, we know that," Gardenhire said. "It's one of those parks where if you get a good pitch and put a good swing on it, it goes flying."

The Tigers unloaded on Reds’ left-handed pitching prospect Nick Lodolo, hitting three tape-measure home runs in a row in a five-run second inning. 

BOX SCORE: Exhibition, Reds 9, Tigers 7

The Tigers second inning started with doubles by Christin Stewart and Austin Romine. Then came the fireworks.

JaCoby Jones hit a ball off the left-field foul pole with an exit velocity of 107.1 mph that the computer estimated would’ve traveled 415 feet.

Goodrum, who reached base three times as the Tigers' leadoff hitter, followed with a line drive that landed on the berm in center field, a 405-footer.

Then Jonathan Schoop completed the trifecta with a 412-footer into the second deck in left.

That’s 1,232 feet of home runs. Brandon Dixon added another 400-footer, a solo shot, in the ninth inning. 

But the Reds countered with five home runs of their own.

Non-roster right-hander Dario Agrazal, still on the roster bubble with the Tigers needing to trim seven more players, gave up two home runs in an otherwise strong three innings. He gave up a two-run homer to Freddy Galvis and a solo shot to Tucker Barnhart.

Those were the only hits he allowed.

Former Tiger Nick Castellanos started in right field and batted fifth for the Reds. He took a hit away from Goodrum with a sliding catch in the first inning.

"We're texting right now," Goodrum said in a Zoom chat after the game. "I was like, 'You're not going to let that fall, man? Really? The first ball hit to you, you're going to slide and catch it?'

"We're going to have a talk later."

At the plate, Castellanos took called third strikes in his first two at-bats — against Agrazal and Bryan Garcia, who struck him out on three pitches.

Castellanos, after he grounded out to third in the sixth, singled in the eighth. But he tried to stretch it to a double and got thrown out by Derek Hill, who was playing left field.

The Reds wiped out the Tigers’ 6-3 lead in the fifth inning off another pitcher on the roster bubble. Right-hander David McKay was tagged for a three-run homer by rookie Shogo Akiyama. McKay, whose slider last season was ringing the radar gun at 94 mph, hasn’t had the same velocity.

He was hitting 90-91 Tuesday.

It was another ex-Tiger who broke the tie. Eugenio Suarez bashed a 410-footer into the upper deck in left field off a 93-mph fastball from Beau Burrows, a two-run shot. Jesse Winker also homered off Burrows in the eighth.

The rest of the Tigers relievers pitched well. Garcia (clean 10-pitch inning) , Gregory Soto (fastball hitting 97 mph, 11 pitches and 8 strikes), Kyle Funkhouser (fastball hitting 95) and each Rony Garcia pitched scoreless innings.

"Everybody stayed healthy and we got a lot of work in," Gardenhire said. "That's what we wanted. So, yeah, it was fun."

Twitter: @cmccosky