Cincinnati — Ah, these adorable National League rules.
Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, after the Tigers dropped games to the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday and Wednesday, didn’t hide his feelings about the disadvantage American League teams face playing in National League parks.
“Their pitchers get to hit nearly every day and we don’t,” he said. “So you ask us to come in and try to do all this extra work for a two-game series. Well, we took batting practice one day and worked on bunting in the cage.
“We’re not as prepared to do all these things as they are. That’s the difference. They prepare every day for National League baseball and we don’t. There’s your unfair advantage.”
American League teams lose a key component of their team, the designated hitter. When National Leagues teams play in American League parks, that is an advantage for them. They gain an extra hitter.
Gardenhire was chapped after the game about some second-guessing he was alerted to on Twitter. Most likely, it came from MLB Network’s Brian Kenny, who was loudly critical of Gardenhire's moves, or lack of them, in the sixth inning.
“Letting Fulmer hit with the bases loaded in top 6,” he tweeted. “I’m not even watching the game and I know that’s a bad move…How many outs are you expecting from Fulmer.”
Fulmer was at 69 pitches and absolutely cruising through five innings. He had allowed two hits. He went seven strong innings in his previous two starts and the Tigers bullpen has been taxed, particularly the middle relievers.
The bridge to the eighth and ninth innings was not all that secure. Plus, the Tigers were up 2-0.
So Gardenhire let Fulmer bat with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the sixth. He struck out. Then he gave up the lead abruptly, in two pitches, two home runs, in the bottom of the sixth.
“Take him out?” Gardenhire said. “He’s at 69 pitches with a 2-0 lead; that doesn’t make any sense. I was expecting nine innings out of him at that point. Just because it’s the National League I’m going to pinch-hit for him? No.
“The next guy can come up and not knock in the run either.”
Most likely, Fulmer’s spot in the order would have come up regardless, but the Tigers had a chance to force the Reds to make a business decision before that. Jose Iglesias singled, advancing JaCoby Jones to third. Iglesias could have stayed at first, but he aggressively took second base on the throw to third.
By doing so, leaving first base open, he made it an easy call for the Reds to issue an intentional walk to No. 8 hitter Dixon Machado.
“They probably wouldn’t have given him anything to hit,” Gardenhire said. “In that situation (if Iglesias had stayed at first), they would have pitched around the zone, make him hit your pitch. That’s National League baseball. Can’t do anything about it.
“But I wasn’t taking my starter out in the sixth inning.”
Gardenhire, fuming, went back to Tweet at the end of the interview.
“Whoever was thinking that maybe should get their own team (and pinch-hit for Fulmer),” he said. “Then when the next (pitcher) goes in and gives it up, I would rip his (butt), if I was in your (media’s) spot.
“I would say, 'Why in the hell would you do that?'"
What a play
The Reds scored a tack-on run in the seventh inning, but reliever Louis Coleman, with a lot of help from his shortstop, kept the game from getting fully out of control.
Three straight singles, one off Alex Wilson and two off Blaine Hardy — working an emergency relief shift between starts — plated a run. Hardy left with the bases loaded and one out.
Coleman got former Tiger Eugenio Suarez to hit a pop up to shallow left. Jose Iglesias raced into the outfield, his back to the plate and reached at the last second to snare the ball — holding the runner at third.
It was a brilliant play.
Coleman then struck out pinch-hitter Alex Blandino with a darting slider on a 3-2 count to keep it a 4-2 deficit.
The Tigers aren’t announcing their starter for the second game at Cleveland Saturday.
Mike Fiers will start Friday night and Matthew Boyd will get the ball in the finale Sunday.
Barring any physical setbacks, Francisco Liriano would most likely be activated off the disabled list Saturday and get the start. Jordan Zimmermann, who would have been in line to start Saturday, is likely to make his next start against the Athletics at Comerica Park next week.
After the off-day Thursday, the Tigers will play 20 games in 20 days leading into the All-Star break. They are attempting to extend their rotation, working six starters into the mix.