Cabrera's return can't spark sluggish Tigers in loss to Astros
Houston — Alfredo Simon was playing with fire from the outset Friday night.
He was falling behind hitters, searching for and failing to find consistency with his splitter and curveball. He went to three-ball counts on 11 hitters through five innings.
He allowed just two singles to Jose Altuve through four innings, yet he still stranded three runners in scoring position. It was a labor.
And it was bound to catch up with him.
The Astros scored three times in the fifth inning and went on to beat the Tigers 5-1 at Minute Maid Park. It was just the Astros third win in 10 games.
"I wouldn't say he had his best stuff by any means," catcher James McCann said. "Tonight he was just behind consistently and it forced him to come to the hitters. Eventually they broke through."
Simon went 3-1 on No. 8 hitter Marwin Gonzalez and gave up a single to start the fifth. Jason Castro doubled Gonzalez to third.
Altuve knocked in one run with a ground out and Simon got Preston Tucker to ground out. He then walked the dangerous Carlos Correa semi-intentionally. But he fell behind Jed Lowrie, whom he'd retired easily the first two times up, 3-0.
On 3-1, Lowrie ripped a two-run double to the gap.
Simon pitched around Correa on his own.
"Maybe he was (pitching around him), but we didn't tell him to do anything special," manager Brad Ausmus said. "You have to pick your spots."
Simon explained it this way:
"There was an open base (with Correa up) so I just throw my splitters," Simon said, hoping Correa would chase. "But when I got 3-1 (on Lowrie) I just try to make him put the ball in play and he put a good swing on it."
The inning would have been worse had Simon not been bailed out by a spectacular play by Ian Kinsler at second. Carlos Gomez shot one up the middle. Kinsler dived to his right, gloved it and threw Gomez out from his knees.
Ausmus sent Simon back out in the sixth hoping that he could get right-handed hitting Evan Gattis, who preceded a left-handed hitter (Luis Valbuena), a switch-hitter (Gonzalez) and another lefty (Jason Castro).
"I didn't want to go to Gorzo (left-handed Tom Gorzelanny) against Gattis and I certainly didn't want to burn a right-hander for one hitter," Ausmus explained. "We had a right-hander out there."
Gattis tripled to KO Simon, and then scored on a well-executed safety squeeze bunt by Gonzalez.
That was enough support for Astros' ace lefty Dallas Keuchel, who is now 11-0 at Minute Maid Park this season. He struck out eight in seven innings.
"With Keuchel we knew it would be tough, and it was," Ausmus said. "He has a lot of movement on his pitches, a lot of deception and it's very tough to square the ball up against him."
The Tigers had a chance to get to him early, though.
They broke on top 1-0 in the fourth on a single by Kinsler, a walk to Miguel Cabrera and an RBI single by Victor Martinez.
They still had runners at first and second and no outs, but J.D. Martinez struck out and Nick Castellanos grounded into a double play.
Jose Iglesias hit a one-out double in the fifth and went to third on a bounding single to left by Anthony Gose. Rajai Davis, though, struck out on a 3-2 pitch out of the strike zone and Kinsler grounded back to Keuchel.
"We were one hit away in a couple of spots from putting up some crooked numbers," McCann said. "His pitch count was up but we weren't able to keep it going and he was able to settle down."
The Tigers only had two baserunners after the fifth.
The Astros tacked on the fifth run in the eighth off Alex Wilson — a two-out infield single by Jake Marisnick and a double by Chris Carter. It was the first run off Wilson in 13 outings.
Cabrera, in his first game back after a six-week stint on the DL, struck out twice, lined to short and walked.
"His timing isn't perfect, but that's to be expected," Ausmus said.
He had to make a couple difficult defensive plays, including a ground ball by Tucker in the first inning that Cabrera fielded going away from the bag. He had to stop, plant and cut quickly the other way to make the play at first.
"I asked him later in the game how he was holding up and he said he was fine," Ausmus said.
Ausmus likely will give Cabrera the day off Saturday and play him again on Sunday, though he hadn't made that official after the game.