Detroit — The Tigers have a heavy right-handed hitting lineup. If you feed the data into a computer, it would say they should be generally productive against left-handed pitching.
So far this season, that isn’t how it’s playing out.
The A’s Rich Hill was the latest lefty to put the shackles on the Tigers. He pitched seven four-hit, scoreless innings in the A’s 5-1 win Tuesday.
Victor Martinez was bemused afterward when it was suggested that left-handers weren’t supposed to have that kind of success against the Tigers.
“Not supposed to?” he said, incredulously. “This is the big leagues. That’s why you can’t take anything for granted. It doesn’t matter if you face left-handers versus right-handers or right-handers versus left-handers.
“Give some credit to the guy (Hill). He threw the ball good. But we’re the ones who were horse(bleep). We couldn’t put anything together.”
Hill, the former University of Michigan standout, joins Houston’s Dallas Keuchel, Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Niese and the Yankees C.C. Sabathia as left-handed starters who’ve beaten the Tigers this season.
“We seem to be scuffling against left-handers, which is ironic," manager Brad Ausmus said. "But it’s early. It will turn around.”
The Tigers, who pounded out 12 hits and three home runs Monday, managed to put only one runner as far as second base in seven innings against Hill. The four hits were singles. He didn’t walk anybody and struck out eight.
“He was having trouble early in the game locating his fastball and he went to the curveball,” Martinez said. “He’s sneaky, very sneaky. He can change his arm slot. He was able to throw his screwball for a strike and he could throw it in the dirt when he wanted to.
“Later in the game he mixed in his change-up. Like I said, he threw good and we were horse(bleep).”
It was Martinez who knocked in the Tigers’ lone run – a long RBI double in the ninth off reliever John Axford.
“We haven’t been putting a whole lot together,” Martinez said. “We’ll keep fighting. That’s something for sure. We’re going to show up every day fighting. Someday, sooner than later, we’re going to turn this thing around.”
Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey probably deserved a better fate. For the fourth straight start, he has gotten zero run support. The Tigers have yet to score a run when he is on the mound. And, after three scoreless innings, two defensive misplays by the Tigers helped fuel a three-run fourth.
Josh Reddick singled to start the inning and appeared to be thrown out trying to steal second. But shortstop Jose Iglesias muffed a good throw by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and that started a chain of bad events.
With Reddick on second, Iglesias was positioned up the middle and couldn’t get to a hard-hit grounder in the hole by Jed Lowrie. The ball hit off Iglesias’ glove and scored Reddick. Stephen Vogt followed with a double, sending Lowrie to third.
Coco Crisp’s sacrifice fly scored the second run, and the Tigers should have thrown out Vogt trying to get to third. Nick Castellanos dropped the throw from left field in his haste to get the ball to Iglesias covering third.
A single by Khris Davis scored the third run.
“Whether we score 20 runs or no runs, my job is to put up zeros,” Pelfrey said. “I haven’t been good enough doing that.”
All in all, though, it was a step forward.
He had been roughed up in his first three starts, contributing to his own demise with 12 walks in 14 innings. But he made a couple of mechanical adjustments after his last start and the results were evident.
He changed his hand position at the start of his delivery, holding them higher, just under his chin. It’s how he pitched last season and helped him shorten his arm path. The shorter arm path helped him stay in better balance and stay on top of his sinker – which allows it to sink instead of running side to side.
“I felt better throwing the ball for strikes,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough."
He didn’t walk a batter in 6.2 innings and induced seven ground ball outs. He had retired nine straight when Yonder Alonso singled with two outs. Marcus Semien followed with a two-run home run to left.
“That home run leaves a bad taste in my mouth,” Pelfrey said. “Belt high, right down the middle and he hit it out. That’s what I get.”
Pelfrey was the beneficiary of one brilliant defensive play. Left fielder Justin Upton leaped above the wall to take a home run away from Chris Coghlan in the third. He juggled the ball on his descent, but corralled it before it fell to the ground.
It was easily the only highlight of the night for the home team.
“I take this personally,” Pelfrey said. “Four starts in and I haven’t been good enough yet and that’s frustrating. I probably won’t sleep tonight or tomorrow, but that’s the way it goes. I have to get better. I’ve said that for four starts but I’m here to win games.”