Cincinnati — Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire was still beating himself up a little bit Sunday for the home run Reds catcher Curt Casali hit off Tyler Alexander in the seventh inning Saturday — a homer that erased the Tigers short-lived 4-3 lead.
He’s used the lefty Alexander to navigate through a patch of left-handed hitters in the sixth and seventh innings, which he did getting Mike Moustakas, Shogo Akiyama and Freddy Galvis.
“Alexander pitched so well,” Gardenhire said. “We just wanted to get him through one more batter. He was locating so well, but that one pitch came back over the plate and they got him. It makes you feel sick to your stomach.”
Alexander was one out from completing two scoreless innings when the right-handed hitting Casali jumped two-seamer and hit it out to right field. Gardenhire was still second-guessing himself, he had right-hander Bryan Garcia ready in the bullpen, when he came to the mound to take Alexander out.
That’s when got a little straight-talk from catcher Austin Romine.
“I go to the mound and take the ball from Alexander and I said, ‘Well, we took a gamble,’” Gardenhire said. “Just trying to get past that guy so we don’t have Bryan facing all those lefties and it didn’t work out. Romine said, ‘Gardy that was the right thing. That was the only pitch he let drift over the plate.’
“Love having a catcher who you can have those kinds of conversations with. He let me know he was still throwing the ball good. But I still felt terrible."
Alexander was in the hunt for a rotation spot through camp, possibly in tandem with Michael Fulmer, but Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson have decided he’s more valuable working multiple innings out of the bullpen.
“Him and (Gregory) Soto out there are our only lefties, so you need to have that,” Gardenhire said. “That’s probably how we’re going to end up using him, just as we did (Saturday). When their (opponent) stacks their lineup with a bunch of lefties, we can put him in after somebody and he’ll give you two or three innings and hold the ballgame.
“Soto, who is throwing it really good right now, will go in shorter situations.”
Soto making his mark
Pitching in a tie game, in a small ballpark against a dangerous hitting team, Soto was unflappable Sunday. His fastball was ringing the gun at 97, 98 and 99 mph as he struck out four in two hitless innings.
"He was the only lefty we had available so we had to pick our spots with him, but right now it doesn't matter," Gardenhire said. "Righties or lefties, the way he's pumping it in there, with a slider and a change-up -- that's what we say in spring training and we said, that guy can really be a force for our bullpen.
"You saw it there."
Moustakas, COVID scare
The Reds placed second baseman Mike Moustakas on the injured list before the game. No injury was listed, but manager David Bell said before the game he'd been scratched because, "he wasn't feeling well."
The Reds on Saturday placed designated hitter Matt Davidson on the injured list, and in the COVID-19 protocol.
Of course, the virus running through a clubhouse like this is exactly what everyone in baseball feared and worked so hard to guard against.
"That's why we talk to these guys all the time about taking care of themselves, you know it's going to happen some time or another," Gardenhire said. "I'm a Tier 1 guy and I've been through a lot, so when I start hearing that I get nervous, I really do. I start thinking about it awful hard.
"And now you think about these guys not being able to play for a while and their health, these situations are probably going to happen off and on. MLB is ready for this, they are all set with protocols for everyone of them."
Gardenhire said the Tigers were tested before the game Sunday and they will be tested again when they get back to Comerica Park on Monday.
Opening Day in Detroit
ROYALS AT TIGERS
Series: Four games, Monday-Thursday, Comerica Park, Detroit
First pitch: All four games at 7:10
TV/radio: All four games on FSD/97.1
Probables: Monday — LHP Mike Montgomery (0-0) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (0-0); Tuesday — TBA vs. RHP Dario Agrazal (0-0); Wednesday — LHP Danny Duffy (0-1, 4.15) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (0-1, 7.10); Thursday — RHP Brady Singer (0-0) vs. RHP Ivan Nova (0-0, 5.40)
►Montgomery, Royals: He beat the Tigers twice last season after being traded by the Cubs. He shut them out over seven innings and struck out 12 at Comerica Park and then beat them again in September, giving up a run in 5.2 innings.
►Fulmer, Tigers: This will be the former A.L. rookie of the year’s first start in 22 months, since September of 2018. He will be deployed as an opener in his first few starts, expected to go a maximum of three innings.