Fool him once, fool him twice, but Tigers rookie Christin Stewart has last laugh

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers left fielder Christin Stewart (14) celebrates his two-run home run against the Toronto Blue Jays with Grayson Greiner (17) during the 10th inning.

Toronto — Christin Stewart, after he slugged a two-run home run in the 10th inning to give the Tigers a 2-0 win against the Blue Jays on Opening Day Thursday, asked one of the clubhouse attendants if they could get him a game ball.

He wanted a keepsake from this day. 

"Sure," he was told, then he was handed a baseball with a dot on it. Stewart may be a rookie, but he's no dummy. The dot means it was a batting practice ball. He politely asked again, could he please get a game ball.

The Blue Jays pitchers, especially starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, were trying to exploit his youthful exuberance Thursday, also. Stroman had struck him out twice, convincingly, even doing a little dance off the mound after he fanned him to end the third inning.

"They were kind of messing with him," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's a kid. But you make a mistake like that one, that one got too much of the plate, and he killed it. We know that's what he can do."

Blue Jays right-hander Daniel Hudson, who had already been tagged for a double by Niko Goodrum in the 10th inning, got two quick strikes on Stewart with his upper-90s fastballs. 

"The guys was throwing hard so I was already choking up on the bat," Stewart said. "I was just trying not to do too much. I knew I had two strikes and I was just trying to be quick to the ball."

Usually that's recipe for disaster if the pitcher throws an off-speed pitch, which Hudson did. He threw what Stewart read as a change-up and 89 mph. The pitch was too fat to fool Stewart. 

"He hung it," Stewart shrugged. 

The ball left Stewart's bat with an exit velocity of 108.8 mph and soared into the second deck in right field. 

"Early on I just kind of let my adrenaline and emotions get the best of me," Stewart said. "I just needed to calm down in the box. I knew that. Later in the game my at-bats started getting better, I started to do what I wanted to do in the box.

"That last at-bat, I got something up in the zone and I put a good pass on it."

And, with a little polite persistence, he got a game ball from a most memorable first big-league Opening Day game.

Bullpen roles

With Drew VerHagen starting on the injured list (forearm strain), Gardenhire said he would use matchups to determine how he gets through the sixth and seventh innings, bridging the game to set-up man Joe Jimenez and closer Shane Greene.

But, Victor Alcantara got the first shot at it. Gardenhire went to Alcantara in the ninth inning of a scoreless game Thursday. Alcantara pitched a scoreless inning to earn the win in the Tigers' 2-0 victory. 

“We kind of have a feel for what we will try to do here,” he said. “We have a feel for the righty-lefty stuff. Stumpfer (lefty Daniel Stumpf) is the guy to get a lefty out. Blaine (Hardy) can go plus innings, I am not worried about him. And Daniel Norris is the long man for now.

“But Alcantara has proven it. His stuff moves all over the place. He can get big outs. But VerHagen is a big miss right now. He can eat up a couple of innings or come in an dominate for an inning.”

Buck Farmer and Rule 5 rookie Reed Garrett will likely work in the early to middle innings, though Gardenhire said he doesn’t feel he needs to handle Garrett with kid gloves.

“I don’t worry about him too awful much,” Gardenhire said. “He throws 98 mph. You ease guys in who throw in the low-90s and try to figure out how they’re going to go through a lineup. Just go out and throw 98. I’m not too worried.

“We’ll figure out spots, give him the ball and tell him to go get ‘em.”

Fulmer update

Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer had Tommy John surgery Wednesday in Dallas and he tweeted out that everything went well.

“Surgery was a success this morning! Just a minor setback for a major comeback!! Looking forward to the road to recovery. Good luck to my boys tomorrow @tigers #OpeningDay2019 #nocheesypicture”

The medical reports relayed to Gardenhire were equally optimistic.

“Everything was good, as good as those things can be,” he said. “Now it’s the long process of letting it heal and then rehabbing – it’s a long, long process. But he got through the surgery. They saw what they wanted to see and fixed it.

“Now we move forward.”

The Tigers expect a 14-to-16-month recovery time for Fulmer.

Minor-league assignments 

The Tigers announced the rosters of their minor-league affiliates on Thursday. Here's where some of the top prospects will start the season.

Triple-A Toledo: Pitchers Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser; infielder Willi Castro; outfielders Daz Cameron, Daniel Woodrow.

Double-A Erie: Pitchers Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, Spenser Watkins, Logan Shore; catcher Jake Rogers; infielder Sergio Alcantara, Isaac Paredes; outfielder Jose Azocar. 

High-A Lakeland: Pitchers Casey Mize, Franklin Perez; infielder Kody Clemens; outfielder Brock Deatherage. 

Low-A West Michigan: Infielder Wenceel Perez; outfielder Parker Meadows.

Around the horn

Miguel Cabrera’s first RBI of the season will be his 1,636th and tie him with Cubs legend Ernie Banks for 29th on the all-time runs batted in list. He is 17 away from tying Tony Perez for No. 28 on the list.

… Nick Castellanos has feasted on Blue Jays pitching over the years. Among active players with at least 100 at-bats against the Jays, he ranks fourth with a .328 average and .605 slugging percentage. In 31 games before Thursday, he hit seven doubles and eight home runs, with 22 RBIs.

Tigers at Blue Jays

First pitch: 7:07 p.m. Friday

TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM

Scouting report:

RHP Matt Shoemaker, Blue Jays: It’s been a rough couple of years for the Trenton and Eastern Michigan University product. He was hit in the head with a line drive at the end of 2016 and was limited to just 21 starts the last two years because of injuries. But he’s healthy now and had a strong spring for the Blue Jays.

LHP Matthew Boyd, Tigers: The former Blue Jay hasn’t had a lot of fun pitching at Rogers Centre. He’s 0-3 with a 7.61 ERA, allowing 20 runs in 23.2 innings. But he’s a different pitcher now. After the All-Star break last year, Boyd ranked seventh in the American League with a 1.08 WHIP and 10th with an opponents’ batting average of .228.

Twitter: @cmccosky