Houston — The way Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire juggled his batting order Friday, it made perfect sense. It didn’t work; but you get what he was going for.
Facing Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel, Gardenhire moved his best hitter, Nick Castellanos, into the No. 3 spot, and put his hottest hitter, Niko Goodrum, in the leadoff spot. He put right-handed hitting John Hicks in the No. 2 spot and hit catcher James McCann clean-up.
“I’d like to see Nicky hit with men on base,” Gardenhire said before the game.
Goodrum came in with a .403 on-base average against lefties and Hicks was at .411. Castellanos came in with the best batting average in baseball against left-handed pitching, .416, and he was slugging .697. And McCann has a career .510 slugging percentage against lefties.
So, sound plan.
The Tigers’ offense remained dormant and the current losing streak is at five. Keuchel blanked the Tigers over six innings and the Astros enjoyed a mostly stress-free, 3-0 win.
It was the 12th time the Tigers have been shut out this season. It was also their 13th loss in the last 15 road games.
"It's frustrating," said first baseman John Hicks, who got one of the six hits allowed by Keuchel. "We've had plenty of opportunities; we had plenty of opportunities tonight. We just have to come up with a big hit. It's frustrating when you're not scoring runs.
"As a hitter, that's what we're here to do. We've got to be better."
Although Castellanos batted only once with a runner on base (he walked in the sixth inning), the Tigers had plenty of traffic against Keuchel. But, as has been the case during this 4-19 free-fall, the big hit was elusive.
They put the first two runners on in the third inning and didn’t score. Keuchel struck out Goodrum and Hicks to end the inning before Castellanos could bat.
Castellanos led off the fourth with a single but was erased on a double-play grounder by McCann.
The Tigers put the first two runners on in the fifth, but after Candelario struck out, JaCoby Jones hit into a double play.
The Tigers best chance to get to Keuchel came in the sixth. Hicks and McCann singled around a Castellanos’ walk. But Keuchel got Mikie Mahtook to foul out to first and Victor Martinez to ground into a force play at second.
"I thought the effort was really good," Gardenhire said. "They were getting after it in the dugout and they stayed all the way through the last inning. We hit some balls hard and got a little unlucky. But the effort was there.
"We got beat by a better baseball team tonight, but I was proud of the way the guys were getting after it. That has to continue. That's what we told them after. We're frustrated, yes. That goes along with it. But we've got to keep playing."
The Tigers, who came in the with the second-worst road batting average in the American League (.237), have scored three runs or fewer in 16 of their last 23 games.
They have struck out 196 times in that 23-game span — eight times Friday night.
"That goes with the territory," Gardenhire said. "We are young and we don't have a lot of experienced hitters in the lineup. We just need to get a couple of big hits and we haven't been able to."
The Tigers got and wasted another quality start from Mike Fiers, his fourth straight. Pitching against his former teammates, he went six innings and allowed the three runs — two of them on a first-inning home run by Alex Bregman.
"It was part nerve-wracking and part exciting," said Fiers, who was with the Astros from 2015-17 and pitched the only no-hitter at Minute Maid Park. "I was ready. I like to compete, especially with a team I've been with for a couple of years and the trash talk that we go back and forth with on a daily basis."
Bregman belted a 2-2 fastball over the tall wall in left field for his 20th home run. The Astros strung three straight singles together in the third to score the third run.
But Fiers settled in and allowed just two more hits through the sixth.
"I was pretty much in trouble every inning, it felt like," said Fiers, who recorded just two strikeouts and got two swings and misses in 91 pitches. "That's a tough lineup and they've seen me for a lot of years. Maybe they picked something up along the way.
"It was a good battle and they came out on top."
Before the game Saturday, Fiers and Francisco Liriano will rejoin their former Astros teammates and be presented with World Series rings.
"It's a dream come true," Fiers said. "Winning a World Series and being a part of that team last year, it's special. I'm very grateful that I was able to play with those guys and just the respect they have for me.
"The last couple of years was special — I have some great relationships with the guys over there. It just, every day it was fun to come to the ballpark to play a game."