Detroit — Nick Castellanos, now at 25 and in his fifth year one of the few wily veterans in the Tigers’ clubhouse, gave a creditable summation of right-hander Artie Lewicki’s major-league debut.
“I’d say great job because he competed,” said Castellanos, after the Tigers’ ninth-inning rally fell short in a 7-6 loss to the Royals Monday. “He threw strikes. He wasn’t scared. He went right after guys. He threw all his pitches for strikes.”
But, he was tagged for five runs and 11 hits in five innings.
“He got hit,” Castellanos shrugged. “Sometimes that happens. Sometimes ground balls are hit right at people. Sometimes fly balls stay in the yard.”
Castellanos hit a long fly ball that left the yard in right-center field in the ninth inning, a three-run home run that brought some sudden drama to the game.
The Tigers, on singles by James McCann and Jeimer Candelario, put the tying and winning runs on base. But Royals left-hander Scott Alexander got Mikie Mahtook to ground out to end the game.
“We showed a lot of fight there at the end,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
It was Castellanos’ 20th home run. He now becomes the first Tiger to post 20 home runs and 10 triples in the same season since Curtis Granderson did it in 2008.
Candelario, the prize acquired from the Cubs in the Justin Wilson-Alex Avila trade, had a double, two singles and a walk.
“The most impressive thing for me was his last at-bat,” Ausmus said. “He didn’t seem rattled by the situation. He wasn’t chasing pitches out of the zone. He was calm and he put a good swing on a breaking ball.”
But the spotlight player in this one was Lewicki. With the news that Jordan Zimmermann (neck) would be shut down for at least a start and probably more — coupled with the absence of Michael Fulmer (ulnar neuritis) and the trade of Justin Verlander — means Lewicki is going to get a long look the rest of this season.
And, results aside, it was an intriguing first outing.
“The big plus is he threw strikes and he was not afraid of the hitters,” Ausmus said. “The first time facing major league hitters and the first time in a major league stadium can be daunting. And he did fine. He threw strikes, which is huge.”
It wasn’t the debut he envisioned, but just like he wasn’t overwhelmed by the stage, he wasn’t overwrought by the results.
“It was cool, but a little disappointing, as well,” he said. “We lost. You go out there and you want to win. But it was definitely challenging and there were some lessons learned. I will take those lessons and move forward.”
Asked what he learned most from the outing, he didn’t hesitate.
“Pitch down,” he said.
Seventy-three percent of his 85 pitches were strikes. And, for better or worse, he pitches to contact — he posted one strikeout (Alex Gordon).
“My mistakes got hit the hardest,” said Lewicki, who gave up a two-run double to Melky Cabrera and a two-run home run to Eric Hosmer in the third inning. “Anything above four inches above the knees is high here and that’s where I think I lived most of the day — and I paid for it.”
What was intriguing was his pitch-ability and his composure. He didn’t rattle after the four-run outburst; in fact, he settled in after that. He pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth, getting Salvador Perez to fly out. And he finished with a clean fifth.
“I didn’t feel overwhelmed,” he said. “Sometimes I was pressing trying to make a pitch too perfect. And I ended up leaving it out over the heart of the plate.”
It’s evident he knows how to pitch. His fastball was touted as a low-90s pitch that gets on hitters quicker than it should. Clearly, after watching him work, there is a reason for that. His fastball velocity ranged from 86 to 94 mph.
In the fourth inning, Hosmer saw fastballs at 93, 87 and 86 mph.
“If it’s a hitter’s count and if they are sitting on a fastball, I will take a little bit off,” he said. “That’s what I did to the second batter (Lorenzo Cain). I threw him a slower fastball over the middle and he popped it up.
“Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But if it’s located, usually I will have success.”
His curve ball, a major weapon for him at Triple-A, was hit around a fair bit by the Royals. Five of the 11 hits came off the curve.
“I feel like I am more than capable of going out there and giving quality outings,” Lewicki said. “I don’t think I showed what I am capable of today. But it’s good to get the first one out off the way – the first strikeout, the first loss.
“There is definitely a lot I can learn from moving forward.”
It was the Tigers’ fifth straight loss, and they sit at 21 games under .500 for the first time since 2003.