Minneapolis – It was a 4-2 game when left-hander Justin Wilson was summoned to work the bottom of the seventh inning Friday night.
After walking leadoff hitter Kurt Suzuki, he was tasked with getting through the top of the Twins lineup – switch-hitting Danny Santana, right-handed hitting Brian Dozier and left-handed hitting Joe Mauer.
It’s been his MO in the past in these situations to bow his neck and start attacking with his mid-90s fastball. Not this time. His weapon of choice was the cutter – regardless of which side of the plate the hitter was swinging from.
“It’s been good for me for a couple of years now,” Wilson said. “I am comfortable enough to go to it in any count or situation.”
Clearly. He got Santana on a tapper in front of the plate. He struck out Dozier swinging through a high cutter on a 3-2 pitch. He threw nothing but cutters to Mauer, and got him waving at a well-placed one on another 3-2 count.
“I made pitches when I needed to,” Wilson said. “Dozier put up a pretty good at-bat. He swung at a cutter up, thankfully. And I threw a pretty good one to Joe.”
Some pitchers can manipulate the cutter, making it cut in or out. Not Wilson.
“I don’t manipulate,” he said. “Just have to throw it.”
Wilson has been as advertised – a power lefty who attacks hitters. He has yet to allow a run in 11 outings with the Tigers. In 10 innings, he’s struck out 14 hitters. Going back to last year, his streak of scoreless innings is 13.
“I’ve been fortunate,” he said. “I’ve gotten some great defense, some double plays that truthfully I didn’t even think we’d get turned because of the fast runners. But Iggy (Jose Iglesias) and Kinsler (Ian) have been great. I’ve really been fortunate.”
He has given manager Brad Ausmus a lot of match-up flexibility in the seventh and eighth innings.
“I had envisioned more Wilson in the seventh and Mark Lowe in the eighth,” Ausmus said. “But I talked to Lowe and said in situations where left-handed hitters were due up in the eighth I might flip. His feeling is, you guys are paying me to pitch. Let me know when I am supposed to pitch.”
Lowe hadn’t pitched in five days before Saturday.
“He said he doesn’t really need an inning,” Ausmus said before the game. “He’s gotten up (in the bullpen) and when he does, he takes it seriously. He’s not just getting loose. He concentrates and treats it like he’s getting his work in.”
After another two scoreless innings of work Saturday, the Tigers bullpen has allowed just two runs in the last 21 innings.
Lowe, who finally got some work, pitched a scoreless eighth, and closer Francisco Rodriguez earned his sixth save. It was his third straight clean outing since he returned from emergency family leave.
“I just think we all fit,” Rodriguez said of the bullpen. “No. 1 is the chemistry. Remember, we’ve got three guys we added to the organization to try and fill big holes. The chemistry has been tremendous. When you have that chemistry, you come to work and everything is easier for you.”
Lowe walked the first batter he faced on four pitches.
“Yeah, it took me four pitches to find the strike zone,” he joked. “I forgot where it was. That’s probably the worst feeling in the world for a pitcher to walk the first guy, especially on four pitches.”
But, with his fastball errant, he went to his bread-and-butter — the slider — and made quick work of the Twins. He struck out Brain Dozier and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw out Danny Santana trying to steal second.
Rodriguez, working more off his 89-mph fastball than earlier in the year, struck out two and allowed only a two-out single in the ninth.
“I am going to pitch the game by the situation,” he said. “We’ve got a three-run lead so I’ve got room to play with. But I need to understand, to strike out somebody, I need to throw three strikes. I cannot strike out somebody on the first pitch.
“So I try to get ahead in the count, go deep in the count and put the guy away.”
McCann not ready
Ausmus said before the game that catcher James McCann will catch two more games for the Mud Hens before coming off his rehab assignment.
He said McCann, on the disabled list with a sprained ankle since April 12, will catch nine innings on Saturday and five or six Sunday. He could rejoin the Tigers in Cleveland.
The extra days are more to get McCann’s swing back in order. He is 2-for-15 at Toledo.
“A few more at-bats won’t hurt him,” Ausmus said.
Maybin heating up
He still hasn’t played in the outfield, but Cameron Maybin’s bat is coming around.
He was on base five times for the Mud Hens Friday, two doubles and three walks. He scored four times.
This is Maybin’s second rehab stint, this one due to a shoulder subluxation.
“My understanding is he’s going to DH for a couple more games,” Ausmus said. “His arm’s not ready (to play the outfield).”