Boston — It was J.D. Martinez’s first game against the Tigers since they traded him last July, and he was inflicting pain with every at-bat, helping his Red Sox win the first of a three-game series, 6-0, Tuesday.
"We talked about him, you know, 'Don't let this guy hurt us,'" Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's hot right now. You don't want to put it in his whomping zone and that zone is really big right now."
In his first at-bat, in the first inning against right-hander Artie Lewicki, he hit a 91-mph fastball 431-feet over the Green Monster in left-center field. It was his major-league best 20th home run of the season and it put the Red Sox up 2-0.
"That was a mistake pitch," Gardenhire said. "It was a 3-2 count and first base was open. I think he tried to come in off the plate and he yanked it or cut it right down the middle."
The ball banged off the light tower, or else it would have left the yard entirely.
"My fastball command needed to be better," said Lewicki, who was making his second big-league start. "I tried to go inside and it leaked over the heart of the plate, and he crushed it.
"He's a low-ball hitter and anything out over the plate, where he can get his hands extended, he does a lot of damage."
In Martinez's second at-bat in the fourth inning, his ground ball — hit with an exit velocity of 104.4 mph — took Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario out of the game. The ball hit Candelario on the right (throwing) hand, causing him to throw the ball wildly to first.
Candelario came out of the game with what the Tigers called a jammed middle finger on his right hand. X-rays were negative and he will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis. Ronny Rodriguez took over at third base.
"He couldn't feel anything, couldn't feel the ball," Gardenhire said. "You saw the throw. That wasn't good. So we had to get him out of there and get it looked at. It came out OK. We'll just go day to day with him."
The two-base throwing error triggered a two-run Red Sox rally.
Lewicki, who seemed to settle in after Martinez’s homer, didn’t recover from the error. He gave up singles to Mitch Moreland and Eduardo Nunez and walked three before leaving with two outs and the bases loaded.
Warwick Saupold ended the inning, getting Andrew Benintendi to ground out.
But the Red Sox kept on hitting. Xander Bogaerts blasted Saupold’s first pitch of the fifth into the bullpen in right-center, his ninth home run.
Martinez, Moreland and Nunez all singled to load the bases. Saupold was able to limit the damage, allowing only one more run, on a ground out by Brock Holt. He induced an inning-ending double play from Christian Vazquez.
Martinez didn’t get a hit in his fourth at-bat, but he may have stopped Saupold’s heart for an instant. Saupold shattered Martinez’s bat, splinters flying everywhere. Saupold threw himself to the ground as if someone lobbed a hand grenade into the middle of the diamond.
"I just saw the bat coming at me and I just dropped," Saupold said. "I lost it. I saw the bat fly and I just — stop, drop and roll, you know? Just wanted to get out of the way."
The ball rolled harmlessly behind second base where Dixon Machado made an easy force at second.
The Tigers’ offense never got going against knuckleballer Steven Wright, who was making a spot start.
Their best chance to score came in the first. Leonys Martin led off with a walk and he tried to score on a double by Nick Castellanos. The Red Sox, though, executed a perfect relay – from left fielder Benintendi to Bogaerts to the plate.
Martin thought he’d evaded the tag of catcher Vazquez, but he was called out and the Tigers opted not to challenge.
"We didn't have a good (replay) angle of it," Gardenhire said. "We thought he might be safe but there wasn't conclusive evidence, and in the first inning of a ballgame, it's really hard to do that."
From that point through the seventh inning, the Tigers produced a single by Castellanos — his league-best 26th multi-hit game — and two walks. Wright retired 13 straight batters from the end of the third through the seventh.
He allowed just the two hits over seven with six strikeouts.
"I don't think a lot of our younger guys have ever faced a knuckleballer," Gardenhire said. "The theory is, if it's high then let it fly, and if it's low, let it go. But that wasn't working."
Of bigger concern for the Tigers, though, is their bullpen. Lewicki threw 71 pitches and Saupold 35. With those two, plus Drew VerHagen (91 pitches on Sunday) unavailable, the Tigers will go into the game Wednesday without a long reliever.
Buck Farmer and Zac Reininger also pitched one inning each Tuesday.
Gardenhire said reliever Alex Wilson will rejoin the Tigers on Wednesday after his 26-pitch rehab outing in Toledo Tuesday. But, he won't be activated until Thursday.
And the Tigers don’t have many fresh arm options, at least not on their 40-man roster. The two that would be available are Double-A right-hander Spencer Turnbull, who pitched Tuesday night, and High-A left-hander Eduardo Jimenez.
It's beginning to become apparent why the Tigers signed veteran Japanese right-hander Junichi Tazawa on Sunday. The cupboard is bare. Tazawa is expected to report to Lakeland for extended spring training before being assigned to Triple-A Toledo.
"We are working real hard on this stuff," Gardenhire said. "Don't worry. We will get through it."