Rock-solid bullpen takes licks in road trip finale
Cleveland — All good things must come to an end.
At least that was the case for the Tigers bullpen on Thursday.
Going back to April 24, 10 games, Tigers relievers had allowed two runs in 30⅓ innings. Drew VerHagen extended the streak to 32⅓ innings with two scoreless innings in the 9-4 loss Thursday.
But Alex Wilson, who had pitched eight scoreless innings this season, was touched up for three runs (two earned) in the eighth. Left-hander Blaine Hardy, the victim of a botched double-play ball by shortstop Mike Aviles, was also charged with an unearned run.
“The bullpen has been solid for the first five weeks,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It was an off night; that will happen. I am not too concerned about the bullpen at this point.”
The additions of Justin Wilson, Mark Lowe and Francisco Rodriguez have been the foundation of the bullpen’s early success. It’s allowed Ausmus to slot the other relievers in more advantageous roles.
“If you think about it, after we traded Joakim Soria last year, Alex Wilson, who didn’t even make the team out of spring training, ended up being in a semi-closer role the last two months of the season. I just don’t think that was the right spot for him to be pitching.
“Now you take a guy like Alex Wilson and he’s pitching in the sixth inning or the seventh inning, at this point in his career that’s a very appropriate spot for him to be pitching.”
It’s the same for Hardy, who was the club’s primary left-hander out of the pen last season. With Justin Wilson at the back end, Hardy can be used to get a key left-handed hitter out earlier in the game, or be used for longer stints.
Again, a role that better suits him.
“Last year we were asking him to get Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon out in the eighth inning,” Ausmus said. “With the guys we acquired (Justin Wilson, Lowe, Rodriguez) guys are able to pitch in roles they are best suited for.”
He knew he was going to have to use his secondary pitches more against a heavy left-handed hitting team like the Indians. And he did.
What rookie right-hander Michael Fulmer didn’t bank on, though, was his fastball letting him down.
“I had trouble locating my fastball, that’s what went wrong in the first inning,” he said.
One of those, a 94 mph first-pitch fastball, was deposited deep into the left field seats by Mike Napoli. That three-run blast keyed the four-run first.
He settled in after that and began to showcase an above-average slider and a change-up.
“The slider was all right,” he said. “The change-up, I left a couple of them up and they were hit hard. I know I need to be better.”
He threw some good change-ups, as well, though. He fanned Lonnie Chisenhall with a beauty in the first inning.
It was a frustrating night for him, all in all, but it was a growth experience.
“I know I can be better,” he said. “I have the confidence. I just need to go off tonight and work on a lot more things before the next one.”
The Indians won every phase of the game against the Tigers, but most especially the defense.
From Marlon Byrd throwing J.D. Martinez out at the plate in the first game, to several web-gem worthy plays by shortstop Francisco Lindor and second baseman Jason Kipnis — they seemed to thwart the few rallies the Tigers mustered.
The win Thursday was no exception.
Left-fielder Michael Brantley robbed the Tigers of a run in the sixth. A two-out double by Justin Upton in the sixth chased starter Trevor Bauer. Nick Castellanos greeted reliever Jeff Manship with a long, sinking line drive to left field. Brantley, who had four hits and three RBIs in the game. moved quickly to his right and made a spectacular tumbling catch to steal a hit and RBI.
Ian Kinsler led off the eighth with a liner up the middle off Bryan Shaw. Kipnis caught it with a dive to his right.
The Tigers started utility man Andrew Romine in center field Thursday to spell a struggling Anthony Gose. It was a reminder of the impact of Cameron Maybin’s absence.
Maybin, still recovering from a shoulder subluxation, could start in center field for Toledo Friday. It would be his first start in the field since he injured the shoulder making a diving catch.
“He doesn’t need much time,” Ausmus said. “If he can throw, I wouldn’t think he’d need to play any more than two or three games (at Toledo). The hard part is, you could stick him out there and he might not have to make a play for a couple games.”
The Tigers have gone with an extra pitcher and been short one fielder since they sent Tyler Collins back to Toledo.
Around the horn
Nick Castellanos entered play Thursday leading the American League with a .378 batting average. With two more hits, including his fifth home run of the season, he’s now hitting .383. He is 7-for-14 in May, after hitting.363 in April. He’s riding an eight-game hitting streak, and in the six games against the Indians this season, he has accounted for six of the club’s 12 runs.
… Circle next Wednesday on you Tigers schedule. The pitching matchup that night in Washington, D.C., is expected to feature ex-National Jordan Zimmermann vs, ex-Tiger Max Scherzer. That will be the first time Scherzer faced the Tigers since leaving after the 2014 season.
On deck: Rangers
Series: Three games, tonight-Sunday, Comerica Park, Detroit
First pitch: 7:10 Friday, 1:10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
TV/radio: FSD Friday and Sunday, FS1 on Saturday/97.1
Probables: Friday — LHP Cole Hamels (3-0, 3.30) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (5-0, 0.55). Saturday — RHP A.J. Griffin (3-0, 2.32) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (0-4, 5.68). Sunday — LHP Martin Perez (1-2, 3.60) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (2-3, 6.49)
Hamels: Hamels continues to win, but the numbers suggest he’s been hittable. In 30 innings, he’s allowed 27 hits and 15 walks, though just 11 runs. He still throws a cutter-curve-changeup combination off his well-spotted 91 mph fastball.
Zimmermann: There’s been far less damage done against Zimmermann — two runs in 33 innings with a 23-7 strikeout to walk ratio and 1.06 WHIP. His slider has been lights-out — he’s thrown 172 and 15 percent have gotten swings and misses. Opponents are hitting .250 against the slider and .200 against his fastball, according to Brooks Baseball.