Baltimore — Once upon a time this April, there was a Tigers offense hinting at surprising, even dramatic, tricks ahead.
But the magic has vanished.
The Tigers have gone 22 innings minus a single run. They walked into another shutout ambush Friday night at Camden Yards where the Orioles, who had been having all kinds of misery early in the 2018 season, instead put the Tigers in their pants pockets by way of a 6-0 victory.
The Tigers had two hits, a double by Jose Iglesias and a ninth-inning infield single by Nick Castellanos. Orioles starter Chris Tillman waltzed into the game with a 9.87 ERA and left after seven innings, with Iglesias’ double his only blemish.
“Their guy pitched very well and so did our guy,” said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, who wasn’t praising Tillman unless he patted the back of Tigers starter Mike Fiers.
“Tillman cut the ball and changed speeds. I tip my hat, because I’ve seen him do this to other teams. And tonight he did it to us.”
The Tigers had one struck ball that came close to scaring the Orioles. In the sixth, Miguel Cabrera sent one of his classic, stars-scraping blasts deep to center field and seemingly en route to his third home run of the season. It was instead grabbed, just in front of the fence, by Adam Jones.
“The guy out there throwing really never gave into us,” Gardenhire said.
That was the view from those who had seen Tillman drop his ERA from 9.87 to 7.03, all as the Tigers watched their record sink to 10-14.
“He doesn’t have the fastball he had before,” said Victor Martinez, who after a three-game sabbatical at Pittsburgh, where the designated hitter is forbidden, was back at DH against Tillman and the Orioles. “But he’s on the edges of the plate.”
Tillman, of course, hadn’t pitched in Thursday’s shutout at Pittsburgh. And there was no sign of Tillman in the final four innings of Wednesday’s second doubleheader game against the Pirates, when the Tigers likewise were shutout.
That stretch of 22 consecutive zeros is an example of what can happen to any big-league team that will have its chilly spells. But against the Pirates and Orioles, the Tigers, who so often had been drilling pitches in April, might have expected some form of scoring ruckus.
“It happens,” said Leonys Martin, who had no luck in four at-bats. “The last game in Pittsburgh (Thursday) we hit the ball pretty hard and didn’t score. Today, it was a hard day.
“Turn the page.”
Paying the price for Friday’s impotence, apart from a team that has now lost three consecutive games, was Fiers, who pitched six innings of honorable baseball.
Fiers got dusted by a Manny Machado homer to center field in the first, and again in the fifth when Pedro Alvarez tore into an outside fastball and drove it into the right-center field seats.
But he otherwise got nice grades as he threw 82 pitches in his six-inning shift, allowing only four hits, walking only one batter — Machado, intentionally — and striking out five.
“Mike threw the heck out of the ball,” Gardenhire said. “He reads hitters about as well as anybody on this staff.”
Fiers now sits with a 2-2 record and a 3.91 ERA. He joins Saturday’s Tigers starter, Francisco Liriano, as a free-agent pitcher who, early in the season, is looking like a relative bargain.
He worked Friday with a fastball that never touched 90. He countered with a slider and, on the speedometer’s opposite end, a slow curve that danced at 65 mph. It was a mix that flummoxed more than one Orioles hitter.
“I threw the ball pretty well,” Fiers said, “but I’ve got to be more down in the zone with this team.
“You’ve got to go really high, or really low. And I need to be more careful with Machado. He’s one of the hottest hitters in the league right now.”
Fiers might have been into tough self-critiques Friday. Gardenhire wasn’t buying in.
“He did his job,” the skipper said. “We just didn’t help him.”
The score was 3-0 when Fiers exited after six. It was 6-0 by the time newcomer Johnny Barbato tossed his first two innings in a Tigers uniform.
Barbato was rapped for a leadoff single in the seventh and then followed by awarding Alvarez his second homer of the evening, this one a bomb to center.
The Orioles followed with another in the eighth against Barbato whose baptism was not pretty: four hits, three runs.
The Tigers are slip-sliding away from that .500 mark they nearly touched earlier this week and now sit four games from break-even.
The Orioles, who appeared to be the sickest of bird species entering the weekend, found a pulse Friday. The Tigers? They’re searching for that offensive heartbeat they thought would allow them to sidestep 22-inning scoreless strings, not to mention a sudden three-game skid.