Tigers rise up vs. lefties, Pelfrey secures 1st win

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
J.D. Martinez celebrates his two-run home run with Victor Martinez during the sixth inning.

Detroit — You figured it had to happen eventually, with all that big, right-handed thump.

And sure enough, slowly but surely, the Tigers are getting their act together against left-handed pitching.

The latest exhibit came Saturday, when they beat one of the best in the game, Chris Sale, and the Chicago White Sox, 7-4, on a drizzly afternoon at Comerica Park.

This win came after the Tigers beat another left, Carlos Rodon, on Friday. They'll get yet another, Jose Quintana, on Sunday.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 7, White Sox 4

"With our lineup, ultimately we should hit left-handers," manager Brad Ausmus said earlier Saturday.
"Over the long haul, it had to turn."


J.D. Martinez hit a long, two-run home run to left-center to put the Tigers on top, for the first time and for good, in the sixth inning, and — would you believe? — Mike Pelfrey (1-5) did the rest, earning his first victory with Detroit. It took him 11 starts, and he hadn't won at all since Aug. 12, 2015.

"It feels really good," Pelfrey said. "The beer shower probably felt the best.

"It's been awhile since I've had that feeling."

The first three White Sox hitters of the game singled, though only one particularly hard. And Pelfrey got out of it with just one run allowed when Todd Frazier took too large of a turn at first and was out in a pickle.

While Pelfrey didn't have a 1-2-3 inning among his six, he did himself some favors by getting the first two outs in four innings. The ones he didn't, the first and third, were the only innings the White Sox scored. Adam Eaton led off the third with a triple and scored on a grounder. And that was it off Pelfrey.

First-pitch strikes were big. So was his breaking ball, typically his fourth-best pitch. His sinker, typically his second-best, took a back seat.
"I feel like I've been a lot better lately," said Pelfrey, who has a 3.18 ERA his last five starts. "I knew there was more in there. I was better than what I was showing."

He allowed nine base runners through his six innings, still a 1.50 WHIP; but that actually matched what Sale, one of the game's elite, gave up through six.

The Tigers tied the game at 1 in the first on Martinez's sacrifice fly, which scored Cameron Maybin. Maybin had three more hits, and he's hitting .418 after 18 games since he came off the DL, .511 in 12 games at home.

Sale (9-2) then settled in, until the sixth, when Victor Martinez singled with one out — he's now batting .500 (18-for-36) for his career against Sale, who once accused him of having spies with binoculars in the outfield stands relaying him pitches — and J.D. Martinez followed with a crushed homer. J.D. Martinez also doubled.

Jose Iglesias then led off the seventh with a double, one of his two hits off Sale, and scored on Maybin's RBI single through a drawn-in infield. That was it for Sale, who won his first nine starts of the season, but now the White Sox have lost his last three — and 17 of their last 23 overall. Sale had two strikeouts, his fewest since April 2015, and allowed nine hits, his most this season.

He needed 32 pitches to get through the first inning, a good sign for Detroit, given the White Sox rough bullpen — and the weather on the horizon.

"I thought rain was coming," Ausmus said.

Tigers said no to James Shields asking price

It did, eventually, but nothing tarp-worthy till after the game was over.

Sale righted the ship with 10 in the second, and still was solid, if not his dominant self.

The Tigers tacked on three insurance runs off Matt Albers in the eighth inning, without hitting all the ball all that hard.

After J.D. Martinez doubled and Nick Castellanos walked, James McCann then bunted them up, and Mike Aviles — starting for a third consecutive game — bunted, as well, with a safety squeeze that he did on his own, and which scored Martinez. Andrew Romine, pinch-running for Castellanos, then scored on a Jose Iglesias grounder to second, beating the throw home from Brett Lawrie. Aviles eventually scored on an infield single by Maybin, shortstop Tyler Saladino unable to barehand the slow roller.

The win drew the Tigers again within one game of .500, as Shane Greene, Justin Wilson, Mark Lowe and Francisco Rodriguez closed it out in relief of Pelfrey. Greene (blister), returning from the disabled list, had an impressive 1-2-3 seventh, with two strikeouts; and Wilson worked around a one-out single, thanks to a double play.

Lowe had yet another rough outing, allowing two runs on three hits, the big blow a two-run double but Eaton.

"We still need to get Lowe back," Ausmus said. "He looked really good against the first hitter (strikeout of Brett Lawrie)."

And then he looked pretty rough after that.

That brought in Rodriguez, who faced just one hitter, getting Saladino to pop out for his 16th consecutive save.

There was a scary moment in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Miguel Cabrera hit a long fly ball to left-center field. Left fielder Jason Coats and center fielder J.B. Shuck collided hard. Coats amazingly held onto the ball, despite taking Shuck's shoulder to his head. Coats, who was hit by a pitch earlier in his major-league debut, was down on the ground for several moments, before looking dazed as he was helped off the field by a White Sox trainer. Coats officially left the game with a laceration in his mouth, and is listed as day-to-day.

Tigers' win-now approach puts Greene in bullpen

The day once felt so much better for the White Sox, who celebrated the acquisition of right-hander James Shields from the San Diego Padres in the third inning.

But it ended like so many others have lately; the White Sox are just 1.5 games ahead of the Tigers in the American League Central, despite leading them by 8.5 games not even three weeks ago.

The Tigers now have handed Sale six career losses, his third-most against any opponent, behind other division foes, the Kansas City Royals (nine) and Cleveland Indians (seven). He's now .500 for his career against AL Central opponents, which is hard to believe.

It's not, however, hard to believe the Tigers finally are hitting lefties again — and that Pelfrey is a winner again. Both were bound to happen, eventually.

"I figured I had to be good to give us a chance," said Pelfrey, who left with his team down, only to see J.D. Martinez's homer change that in a flash. "I was pretty excited — maybe my luck is gonna turn around a little bit here."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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