Cleveland — It was a loss — a frustrating loss.
The Tigers hitters were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight runners in a 2-1 loss to the Indians. It was their ninth loss in a row to the Indians, and they’ve scored three runs or less in all nine.
They have now lost four games out of 10 this season when they’ve allowed two runs or less. No team in the designated-hitter era has done that to start a season.
So, yeah, from that standpoint, the atmosphere was a little gloomy in the clubhouse Tuesday.
“These guys are really getting after it,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “They are rooting for each other. But when you hit some balls hard and get nothing for it, that’s when you start getting frustrated.
“When you are hitting balls right on the button and they’re making plays, you have a tendency to get frustrated. But we kept playing.”
The Indians defense in the middle of the infield was sensational. Shortstop Francisco Lindor robbed Miguel Cabrera of an RBI single in the first inning, making a diving backhand stop in the hole, getting up and gunning him out at first.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis took an RBI single from Cabrera to end the seventh inning, after the Tigers had tied it 1-1. He ranged over to the shortstop side of the field, made a sliding stop, got up quick and threw out Cabrera by a half-step.
In the eighth inning, with the Indians up 2-1, Kipnis and Lindor took hits away from Nick Castellanos and Victor Martinez — thwarting a potential rally.
“We had our chances,” Gardenhire said. “I like the way we are playing. We just have to find a way to get a hit when we got a couple of runners out there.”
There were positives to be taken from this loss.
Left-hander Matthew Boyd’s performance was tops among them. He allowed three hits over seven innings. One mistake resulted in a first-inning solo home run by Jose Ramirez. Other than that, he had the Indians hitters lunging and taking uncomfortable-looking swings most of the game.
This was a craftsman's display of pitching. He was moving his pitches in and out, up and down in the strike zone. He was adding and subtracting velocity on all of his pitches.
His four-seam fastball ranged from 87-92 mph; his curveball from 71 to 79; his slider from 78 to 83; his change-up from 76 to 79 and his two-seam fastball from 88 to 90.
“That’s been effective,” Boyd said. “Adding and subtracting is something I’ve been working on all spring. That’s where James (McCann, catcher) did a really good job today, keeping guys off-balance.”
The change of speeds doesn’t matter if the pitches aren’t located well. Of his 102 pitches, 64 were strikes.
“His deception is good and he’s locating it,” Gardenhire said. “He’s moving his fastball in and out, too. He adds and subtracts on his fastball which I think sets everything else up. Once you get them thinking inside on a good fastball, maybe you take something off the rest of your pitches, the slider and change-up – that’s pitching.
“He’s definitely doing that. He was fantastic tonight.”
So was third baseman Jeimer Candelario. He got three of the Tigers six hits, all doubles — all hitting left-handed — one in the left-center field gap, one pulled down the line in right and the last slapped inside the third base bag.
The last one came with two outs in the seventh and plated the Tigers only run.
What impressed Gardenhire, though, was Candelario’s toughness. He was hit in the right kneecap by a pitch from Josh Tomlin in the third inning.
“I went out there thinking he was surely coming out of the ballgame,” Gardenhire said. “But the kid hung in there and said, ‘I’m fine.’ That tells you a little about who he is. He’s a tough kid and he’s tough at the plate.
“He finds a way to get it done. He’s working really hard to be a good player. I mean, he gets hit in the kneecap and just goes, ‘pfft.’ I was crying.”
Two other plays that stood out.
Niko Goodrum, starting for Jose Iglesias at shortstop, singled to lead off the second inning and daringly tagged and bolted for second base on a ball hit to medium depth center field.
Rajai Davis’ throw beat him, but he wound up winning that bag with a nifty swim move.
“We want to play,” Gardenhire said. “It’s all about playing. We said we were going to take chances. You have to when you aren’t scoring runs. You have to move some people around.”
Goodrum, though, went on his own.
“That’s an instinct play,” Gardenhire said. “He saw something and he took off running. That’s the way we’re going to play. I want these guys to be aggressive and try to make plays.”
This was also rookie Victor Reyes’ true big-league baptism. He got the start in left field and got his first big-league hit — and scored the Tigers’ only run.
“He had a smile from ear to ear,” Gardenhire said. “That’s a special thing. You only have one opportunity to get your first hit. Hopefully, there will be many more. I loved seeing that smile.”
The smile left in the ninth, though. Gardenhire let him bat with one out against Indians closer Cody Allen. He struck him out on four pitches.
“I want to see that kid play in those situations,” Gardenhire said when asked if thought about using a pinch-hitter (John Hicks and Mikie Mahtook were available). “I think he was fine there. That’s a good pitcher and he has to see some of those guys. He’ll be better for it down the road when he calms down a little bit.
“But he took some healthy swings. He wasn’t afraid.”
Those learning experiences, those hard lessons, are what this season is largely about for the Tigers.