Detroit — Chad Bell was cruising Wednesday night.
He relieved Anibal Sanchez with two outs in the fourth inning and got Eric Hosmer to tap back to him, stranding two runners. Then he retired six of the next seven, keeping the game relatively close, 4-1.
Then came his third inning of work — three straight hits, an RBI double. He ended up getting tagged for five runs in a nine-run Royals uprising.
A similar thing happened to him in Kansas City six days earlier. Two strong innings and then five straight hits and a pile of runs.
“Obviously, there is something I need to adjust, because in my last three or four outings, all my runs have come after I’ve gone through the lineup," Bell said.
The numbers are pretty alarming, especially since Bell was in the starting rotation at Toledo before taking a long relief role in the Tigers’ bullpen.
The first time through the order (97 plate appearances), opponents hit just .202 with a .268 on-base percentage against Bell, with 17 strikeouts and seven walks. The second time through (40 plate appearances), they are hitting .455 with a .550 on-base percentage and a 1.368 OPS, with just eight strikeouts and six walks.
“Hitters have seen him once so they are more aware of what his stuff looks like,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It might be a matter of changing the sequence of pitches and the manner in which you attack guys. What you have to remember, though, is the guy is still learning.”
Still, the numbers are troubling for a left-handed pitcher who projects to be a starter. In pitches one through 25, opponents hit .138 with a .373 OPS and just one home run. Pitches 26 through 75 — .423, 1.279 OPS and five home runs.
“It’s something I looked at the other day after the same thing happened in Kansas City,” Bell said. “But a lot of the hits, other than the home run (by Whit Merrifield), weren’t really barreled up. I didn’t want to make too many adjustments based on that.”
But the sample size is big enough now. He believes the issue is a combination of execution and pitch sequencing.
“In a couple earlier outings (against the Diamondbacks and Rays), my stuff started to come up in the zone,” Bell said. “And certain situations, it’s sequencing, too. The second time through I try to get the hitter out the same way I did the first time and maybe they’re making the adjustment.
“I have to figure out what I need to do to get them out the next time.”
His two battles with Salvador Perez in Kansas City illustrate the point. The first time he faced Perez, Bell made him look bad on two change-ups — getting a chased strike three. Second time up, Bell started Perez off with a fastball strike on the inside corner then followed it with a change-up off the outside corner.
“It was a foot outside and he reached out and knocked it into right field,” Bell said. “He got a lot of barrel on that pitch so it had to be something he was looking for. I just have to keep fighting and keep looking for answers — because the first time through, it’s been pretty good.”
Matthew Boyd was at the ballpark early Friday and he did all his usual prep work ahead of his start Saturday. But he was nowhere to be found once the clubhouse doors opened to the media.
“He went home to be with his wife and baby,” Ausmus said.
Boyd’s wife, Ashley, gave birth to their first child on Thursday, Meira Joy Boyd.
Boyd will not miss any starts, though he will fly on his own to New York on Monday so he can spend an extra day with his family.
It was initially odd to see Jose Iglesias missing from the starting lineup Friday after the off-day Thursday, especially since his name has popped up in recent trade rumors (San Diego).
But Iglesias’ sitting was unrelated to that.
“Dixon Machado hasn’t played much,” Ausmus said. “There is no situation. The next couple of games (facing Astros starters Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers) I felt were better matchups for Iggy. Though small sample sizes, Iggy has had more success against them.
“So I decided to give Machado the start (Friday against Dallas Keuchel).”
Iglesias said he was surprised to see he was not in the lineup, but he had been talking to his agent group and knew no trade was imminent.
“I’m all good,” he said.
Around the horn
Ausmus said he had not heard from Major League Baseball regarding reliever Bruce Rondon’s ejection for throwing at Royals' Mike Moustakas Wednesday. Ausmus also indicated there would be no disciplinary action taken by the club.
…The Astros placed outfielder George Springer on the disabled list before the game (left quad).
…The Tigers are 2-28 in games they don’t hit a home run. They are 43-27 when they do.
Astros at Tigers
First pitch: 6:10 p.m. Saturday, Comerica Park, Detroit
RHP Collin McHugh (0-0, 7.71), Astros: He’s back after missing three months with an elbow injury, and he’s added a new pitch to his arsenal — a slow, 80-82 mph slider. He threw it almost exclusively to right-handed hitters in his last start against the Orioles. He will still use his cutter to left-handed hitters.
LHP Matthew Boyd (4-5, 5.48), Tigers: The brand-new father (his daughter was born Thursday) has made two quality starts since returning from Toledo. Two of the Tigers last three wins were in his starts. He’s thrown fewer two-seam fastballs since he’s come back and his change-up has been effective (.167 opponent’s average in two starts).