Minneapolis — If Ronny Rodriguez’s playing time with the Tigers is running short — and it very well could be once rosters expand in September — he’s not going out quietly.
Rodriguez’s first career grand slam capped a five-run sixth inning Friday that sent the Tigers to a 9-6 win over the Central Division-leading Minnesota Twins.
"El Felino is a swinger," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said, using Rodriguez's nickname. "We know that. ... If you make a mistake to him, I promise you he will run into it. That was a huge swing for us."
The slam was one of three hits on the night for Rodriguez.
"I had one at Columbus in the minor leagues but never at this level," Rodriguez said. "So it's a memory that I will never get."
Since being recalled from Triple-A Toledo on Aug. 11, he is hitting .322 (10 for 31) with three home runs. He’s hit 21 home runs this season — 11 at Toledo and 10 with the Tigers.
"I mean, it's baseball," he said. "It's a game of adjustments, but I've been coming with the same mentality when I came here earlier in the season — to prove what I can do on the field."
The Tigers came to bat in the sixth trailing 3-0. They’d mustered five hits off Twins ace Jose Berrios. But Dawel Lugo, in the game replacing Niko Goodrum, who had left with a tight left groin in the third inning, lined an RBI double into the right-field corner.
With two outs, and after Travis Demeritte walked to load the bases, Rodriguez, after flailing and missing a sweeping slider out of the strike zone, jumped a 1-2 curve ball and sent it on a majestic, 420-foot arc just inside the foul pole in left field.
"If he throws me another one on the outside I would've swung at that, too," he said. "But he made that pitch and I took advantage of it."
The two-run cushion was precarious for an inning, but the Tigers kept taking on runs. They ended up with 17 hits. Besides Rodriguez, Harold Castro had three hits, including a pair of doubles, and two RBIs.
Travis Demeritte had a pair of hits, a walk and two RBIs. Lugo had three hits, including two doubles.
"We're starting to see some confidence," Gardenhire said. "We played well in Houston and in Tampa and had chances to win some games. They looked like they're a little bit hungry.
"They came in here and swung the bats pretty good against a really good starting pitcher."
The last real moment of drama came in the seventh inning.
Right-hander Jose Cisnero, who took over for starter Drew VerHagen with a two-run lead, got the first two hitters quickly. Then he gave up a single to Jason Castro, hit Jake Cave and walked Max Kepler on four pitches to load the bases.
The Tigers hurriedly got Buck Farmer up in the bullpen. Whether he was fully warmed up or not became a moot point after Cisnero threw a first-pitch ball well out of the strike zone to Jorge Polanco.
Gardenhire bolted from the dugout and made the pitching change within two steps.
"A lot of people would call that stupid managing to put Buck in that spot," he said. "But we just didn't anticipate him walking those guys, and it happened quick. Cisnero was throwing so good and then he just lost it."
No worries. Farmer subdued the anxiety, getting Polanco to foul out.
Miguel Sano and Cave each hit a pair of home runs for the Twins.
"This game is tough," Rodriguez said. "It's hard. It's back and forth. We come every day with the mindset to compete and give it 100 percent. That's what Gardy preaches and we got his back."
The Tigers' other positive development was the starting pitcher. Are they finally starting to see the real VerHagen?
After three strong, five-inning outings, he looked for long stretches Friday like a pitcher who has found himself. Against a high-powered Twins offense, he posted a career-high 11 strikeouts in six innings.
"That was definitely the top," VerHagen said when asked where he'd rank that performance. "I haven't had that good a run on starts. That felt really good. That felt like me."
He struck out five straight — the Nos. 3-7 hitters in the Twins lineup — over the third and fourth innings.
And he struck out the side in the sixth — again the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez and Luis Arraez.
VerHagen was effectively using his mid-90s two-seam and four-seam fastballs to set up his slider and curve. He got seven swings and misses and seven called strikes with the slider, five swings and misses and three called strikes with the curve.
"I tried not to get affected too much by a couple of mistakes that I made," VerHagen said. "I made a few mistakes and they made me pay for all of them. I just tried to keep making pitches.
"My stuff felt good. My body felt good. And I just kept attacking."