Detroit — If home really is where the heart is, it appears the Tigers have found love again.
Well, at least JaCoby Jones has.
The Tigers outfielder hit multiple home runs for the second time in his career on Saturday, picking up three hits and a career-high five RBIs in the process, as Detroit rolled over Minnesota in the second installment of a three-game series, 9-3.
Five Detroit bullpen arms combined to give up six hits, three runs, four walks and struck out nine, Christin Stewart added a solo home run in the third and Harold Castro knocked in his first career RBI for the Tigers (24-37), as they picked up just their second win at Comerica Park in their last 14 tries.
Max Kepler scored twice on RBIs from Jorge Polanco and C.J. Cron, Nelson Cruz hit a solo home run and Minnesota starter Kyle Gibson was tagged for five runs and eight hits in five innings of work for the Twins (42-21).
Jones’ two-homer performance gave him eight on the season, a team high, and is just another mile marker in what’s proving to be a tremendous run in the plate. The right-handed slugger has now hit safely in 18 of his last 23 games, batting .365 with four doubles, one triple, six home runs and 16 RBI in that span.
Tigers manager Rod Gardenhire credited Jones' recent play, which followed a 27-game slide of .151 hitting at the season's start, to a swing adjustment.
“He’s done a lot of work trying to change his swing,” Gardenhire said. “The whole setup, the whole package — get a little shorter to the ball. And I think you’re starting to see that’s working for him.”
The resurgence of Jones’ bat, in particular, is an important one. Not only does it means that he’s on his way to matching his high-level defense and becoming the well-rounded player the Tigers hoped he would, but because, Gardenhire said, Jones has one of the most “infectious” bats in the lineup.
“He’s got that smile,” Gardenhire said. “He hits a home run, and he’s a real exciting player. He brings that big smile and all the guys get excited. That’s what we’re looking for. That’s what we were hoping for, because he’s an elite defender, and now, he’s bashing the heck out of the ball.”
Jones’ first home run of the game, a three-run shot in the second inning off Gibson (6-2), gave the Tigers a 3-1 lead that they would not relinquish.
Detroit fell behind in the first after Tigers opener Buck Farmer walked Kepler on four straight pitches to start the game. The Twins outfielder made his way home a batter later, as Polanco ripped a first-pitch fastball from Farmer down the third-base line for an RBI double that gave the Twins a 1-0 lead.
Farmer, who was making his first start of the season, said it felt “a little strange” coming out of the dugout instead of the bullpen. The right-hander could laugh off his early hiccup after the two-inning, four-strikeout outing was finished.
“That’s not exactly how I wanted to draw the first one up, you know?” Farmer said. “First guy out of the game, four balls out of the gate.
Tigers left-hander Nick Ramirez relieved Farmer to start the third; he threw three innings, giving up one run and three walks while striking out three.
Ramirez (2-0) also earned the win, but his first batter, Kepler, again drew a leadoff walk. He then got to second on a base hit by Cruz and scored on an RBI single by Cron. Ramirez was able to leave both Cruz and Cron stranded, though, thanks in part to a diving effort from shortstop Niko Goodrum that commenced an inning-ending double play.
Victor Alcantra followed up Ramirez’s performance on the mound with two scoreless, hitless innings. After the game, Ramirez downplayed his win and gave credit to those that took the mound with him.
“Buck came out and set the tone,” Ramirez said. “I battled through three innings. Vic was untouchable. (Reliever Blaine) Hardy got through that one (closer Shane Greene) was very, very efficient.”
Stewart led off the third for Detroit and promptly put the Tigers back up a pair, turning on a 2-2 fastball up and away for his fifth home run of the season. Castro singled home Nick Castellanos in the fifth, extending Detroit’s lead to 5-2.
Cruz homered off Hardy in the eighth inning, making it 5-3. The 445-foot shot was the former Texas slugger’s third home run in as many games and 19th career home run vs. Detroit.
Jones earned the run back and then some in the bottom of the inning with a two-run homer that just cleared the left-field foul pole. Dawel Lugo tripled home Goodrum and scored on a Brandon Dixon single to give the Tigers a six-run lead heading into the ninth.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.