Upton’s blast boosts Tigers to big win

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Justin Upton collects a few high-fives in the dugout after his homer in the first inning.

Detroit -- The start to Justin Upton's Tigers career was sluggish, and that's being pretty darn kind.

Well, Upton sure worked the kinks out Tuesday afternoon, teeing off for a mammoth first-inning home run to the camera well in center field and finishing with four hits as the Tigers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-2, on a glorious if not exactly warm day at Comerica Park.

Upton launched his first homer as a Tiger 451 feet to straightaway center -- it was such a bomb, Andrew McCutchen took three steps and gave up -- in the first inning, setting the day for another great performance by the Tigers' right-handed-heavy lineup against a hard-throwing right-hander, in this case Juan Nicasio (1-1).

"That's select company," Ausmus said of Upton's landing spot. "We haven't seen many of those the years I've been here. Migggy's been out there, J.D., Jose Abreu with the White Sox, and Justin. I don't know if there's been another one."

BOX SCORE: Tigers 8, Pirates 2

Upton, signed this offseason to a six-year, $132.75-million contract, had twice as many strikeouts (10) as hits (five) in his first five games with Detroit, then proceeded to bump his average from .227 to .333 in one afternoon.

It was his first four-hit game since 2013.

"It's always nice to get the first one out of the way and know that you can still do it," Upton said. "It's always nice to kind of show everybody what you can do."

Ian Kinsler also homered, and Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez hit back-to-back RBI doubles in a pivotal sixth inning, to back Anibal Sanchez (2-0), who was cruising, having retired 10 in a row. That was right before falling apart at the 100-pitch mark, which always seems to be his Kryptonite.

The Tigers led 4-0 in the sixth inning, and Sanchez struck out the first two batters of the inning.

But David Freese hit a hot shot to third, where Nick Castellanos made a great diving play. His throw, though, to first barely pulled Miguel Cabrera off the base. Starling Marte followed with a two-run homer to cut Detroit's lead in half, and Francisco Cervelli walked, and that was it for Sanchez.

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Sanchez had some extremely long breaks between innings, as Tigers hitters battled the heck out of Nicasio, who needed 94 pitches to get through three innings. It didn't rattle Sanchez, though, as he kept the ball down in the zone, and made big pitches when he needed, too. Twice, he got Freese to hit into a double play.

"I'll take results like that all year long," Sanchez said. "Not just for me, but for the team."

Sanchez, off to a good start bouncing back from last season's injury-plagued nightmare, allowed four hits and three walks in 5.2 innings; he struck out four.

Justin Wilson came in for Sanchez and got out of the inning.

And the Tigers’ bats quickly gave Sanchez back the runs and more in the bottom half off the inning against former Tiger Kyle Lobstein. Victor Martinez was on every pitch and finally kept one fair, for a long, two-run double to right-center. J.D. Martinez followed with the RBI-double to left.

The next inning, Kinsler hit his second homer of the season.

J.D. Martinez (four hits), Miguel Cabrera and Upton each also had an RBI-single as Detroit banged out 14 more hits, six off Nicasio, who also walked five. His first start, he allowed two base runners all game. Like the Pirates did Monday against Justin Verlander, the Tigers wore out Nicasio.

"I know they were trying to get the ball down. He's got a good riding fastball," Ausmus said. "The emphasis was really to get the ball down in the zone, something you can get on top of."

The Tigers’ bullpen then continued to impress, with Wilson, Drew VerHagen, Buck Farmer and Francisco Rodriguez combining for 3.1 innings of scoreless relief, preserved by an excellent diving stab by Cabrera in the ninth inning.

The victory, before 26,489 fans, earned the Tigers the split in the Comerica portion of this four-game, home-and-home series with the Pirates. The series continues Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

It also kept the Tigers from losing a third straight, after opening the season with three straight wins.

"You definitely don't want to get into that routine of losing three, four in a row," Upton said. "To stop the bleeding and get it going again as an offense was nice."