Patchwork pitching helps Tigers edge Athletics
Oakland, Calif. — For about 15 hours beginning late Tuesday and extending into early Wednesday, the Tigers were like those TV chefs obliged to throw together a prize-winning meal using leftovers.
That's not to say Tigers relievers are cold cuts. But it takes a collection of good ones to produce something upbeat and satisfying, which the Tigers somehow pulled off Wednesday by way of a 3-2 victory over the Athletics at O.co Coliseum.
With their starting pitching completely discombobulated by 11th-hour events, sudden starter Alex Wilson, and his jet-lagged successor Kyle Ryan, headed a bullpen parade that started, sustained, and finally finished a triumph that gave the Tigers a series victory over the A's.
Yoenis Cespedes helped make the pitching hodgepodge work by way of a three-run home run in the fifth, a liner into the concrete staircase beyond the left-field wall that was the Tigers' only homer in the series.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus conceded he seems "to get more gray hairs" during games and series as tense as this week's series against the A's.
Ausmus' mane should have resembled George Washington's after Wednesday's scheduled starter, Alfredo Simon, departed for the Dominican Republic to be with his seriously ill father, and Simon's fill-in, Triple A pitcher Ryan, was unable to fly to Oakland in adequate time to prepare for Wednesday's start.
The backup plan to the backup plan became Wilson, a right-hander who didn't jolt any Richter scales when he was included in last December's Cespedes-Rick Porcello trade.
Wilson had not started a game since 2012, when he pitched for the Red Sox farm chain. But in tossing three hitless, scoreless stanzas Wednesday, his ERA slipped to 1.99 and his WHIP to 0.71, while opposing hitters are batting all of .171 against a 28-year-old West Virginia resident who was born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
"I've used him in multiple roles, and now he's starting," said Ausmus, who doesn't plan on making these Wilson starts a habit. "And every role we've put him in, he's answered the bell."
Ryan, too, delivered. At least, once he had awakened. He got word late Tuesday he would be starting, didn't sleep ahead of a 4 a.m. ride to the airport and a 6 a.m. flight that would eventually lead to his arrival in Oakland just after 11 a.m., 90 minutes before the game's first pitch.
He still worked three innings, allowed three hits, and three walks, but only a single run. And that, said Ausmus, is because Ryan, 23, had an edge in situations with men on base.
"The one weapon he has is that sinker," Ausmus said, remembering Ryan's stint with the Tigers in 2014, when he pitched in six games and made a start. "He got a few big ground balls today."
The bullpen cavalcade continued once Wilson and Ryan had been excused.
Al Alburquerque tossed a hitless inning replete with two strikeouts. Blaine Hardy got into a bit of trouble in the eighth, uncommon for him, only to thank Joba Chamberlain for getting the inning's final out with a mean slider that led to Ben Zobrist's pop-up and to an agile snag by catcher Bryan Holaday.
Joakim Soria finished matters in the ninth for his 15th save.
The bullpen battalion did a slick job of offsetting yet another day in which Tigers hitters, other than Cespedes, were generally quiet.
Make that four runs in three games against the A's. And the Tigers won two of them.
"It's been a too-common theme," Ausmus said, acknowledging some scoring issues as he wound down in the visiting manager's office following Wednesday's drama. "But I'll take the wins rather than tacking on more runs."
Wilson didn't get the victory Wednesday. But no one would have begrudged him making off with a prize that went to Ryan, who was the Tigers pitcher of relevance when Cespedes blasted his sixth homer of 2015.
"We were hoping to get three good innings from him," said Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones, who has watched Wilson move from an unremarkable spring camp to become one of the team's steadiest workers. "He hides the ball so well. Obviously, it's tough for hitters to pick it up.
"He keeps it down, and elevates when he needs to."
The Tigers expect life to become somewhat less frenzied as they move now to Southern California for a four-game series against the Angels that begins tonight in Anaheim.
They at least have a starting pitcher scheduled to work who won't have romped in from the bullpen, or who needs a bottle of 5-Hour Energy to take the mound.
It will be Buck Farmer, recalled this week from Toledo to replace Kyle Lobstein, the injured starter (sore shoulder) who was filling in for Justin Verlander during his spring on the disabled list.
Nothing is ever easy these days for the Tigers. But they'll live with the outcomes, as long as they match fortunes somehow extracted from a three-game set in Oakland.