Tigers not losing faith in beleaguered Upton

Chris McCosky, The Detroit News
Justin Upton, right, was 4-for-29 in his last seven games before coming through with two hits in Sunday's 5-1 win.

St. Petersburg, Fla. — It was spontaneous and it was genuine. And it may have been one of the coolest moments of the Tigers’ season thus far.

The dugout erupted in unbridled joy after Justin Upton laced a double to the gap in left-center field scoring the go-ahead runs in the Tigers’ 5-1 win Sunday.

The joy was for the much-maligned Upton as much as it was for the go-ahead runs.

“This is a team,” Victor Martinez said. “Everybody has each other’s back. Anybody who has played this game knows how tough this game can be. There were a lot of people criticizing him, talking about this and that, all because he got paid. It doesn’t work like that.

“This guy has been working his butt off. Sometimes he might work too hard and it goes against him. But I will tell you something, we always feel great when he’s at the plate. He can make anything happen.”

Upton, who signed a six-year, $132.75 million deal this offseason, had just four hits in his last 29 at-bats over seven games.

He was 2-for-19 in the last five games at home and was hearing the boo-birds.

“We all know what he’s going through right now,” Ian Kinsler said. “But he’s still out there battling every day. He’s the same guy every day. He never hangs his head. He plays the game hard and he plays it the right way. So it’s always nice to see one of your teammates come through like that.”

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Upton has been swinging the bat better of late. He hit .243 with five homers in June. He hit the ball hard three times Sunday, and finally got a couple to fall in. In fact, his lineout to shortstop with runners on first and third in the sixth inning came off the bat at 110 mph according to StatCast.

“I felt like I had been swinging the bat well,” he said. “I didn’t get rewarded for it at home. Just keep grinding. It’s part of the game. Sometimes you square balls up and you don’t get hits. That’s what makes the game so tough.

“I got one to fall. It was nice to give us a lead right there.”

Rondon the stopper

Things haven’t worked out in a closer’s role for right-hander Bruce Rondon. But he’s been pretty reliable in some sticky, non-save situations since being called up from Toledo.

“I don’t think it’s the situations,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “I think it he’s just a different guy.”

Rondon entered Sunday’s game in the seventh inning. The Tigers were down 1-0 and he inherited a bases-loaded, one-out mess from starter Mike Pelfrey. Rondon struck out right-handed hitting Logan Forsythe on a wicked, 2-2 slider. Then got left-handed hitting Brad Miller to fly routinely to left.

“Huge,” Pelfrey said. “That was the biggest out of the game right there. He was outstanding and I was appreciative of that.”

Rondon has pitched 7.2 innings since his call-up, allowing one run on two hits with eight strikeouts.

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“Those are the type of innings as a pitcher, you build a lot of confidence,” closer Francisco Rodriguez said. “Especially when you get the job done and keep the scoreboard right there. That’s pretty much the ballgame right there.

“In that situation, you’re looking for a strikeout and a quick inning, exactly the way he approached it. You got one job, just keep the scoreboard the way it is.”

Indoor magic

Pelfrey’s best two starts this season have been in domes.

He allowed one run in six strong innings in a 1-0 loss in Houston in April. And on Sunday, he allowed just one run in 6.1 innings against the Rays.

“I felt good,” he said. “I think my fastball was good. My command was good. I was glad I was able to keep these guys in the game and we got the win. Maybe it’s an indoor thing. My next start is indoors, too, so I hope it holds true.”

His next start will be at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Twitter: @cmccosky