Stewart, Schoop launch HRs; Tigers' bullpen grounds Royals in 4-3 win
Detroit — It’s not been for a lack of trying, mind you. Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire has on multiple occasions wanted to give his veteran second baseman Jonathan Schoop a day off — in Lakeland, in the camp intrasquad games, in the two exhibition games in Cincinnati.
“He just doesn’t want to come out of a game,” Gardenhire said. “He wants to play every inning, every game. He doesn’t want to miss a single at-bat. He's baseball lifer and a good guy to have on the team.”
Maybe it’s a Baltimore thing. Schoop spent the first six years of his career with the Orioles, playing 162 and 160 games, respectively in 2016 and 2017. No doubt he’s infused with the spirit of Cal Ripken Jr., right?
Nah. His true role models in Baltimore, he said, were Adam Jones and Manny Machado.
“I like to go out and enjoy the game,” said Schoop, whose monster two-run home run into the center-field shrubbery at Comerica Park Tuesday sparked a four-run third inning and sent the Tigers to a 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals. “I love to play. I’ve loved to play baseball since I was 4. So, if I can be out there every day, just find a way, the happier I am.
“I just like to see my name in the lineup every day, just go out, compete and help my team win baseball games.”
He helped defensively, too, with a heads-up play with one out in the ninth inning.
"Why do you want to talk about that pop-up?" Gardenhire groaned after the game. "Leave the pop-up alone."
It was a near disaster. Adalberto Mondesi hit a sky-high pop-up in the middle of the diamond. First baseman C.J. Cron and third baseman Jeimer Candelario converged in front of the mound.
Cron ultimately took charge but the ball popped out of his glove. Catcher Austin Romine alertly pounced on it and made a strong throw to first base, where Schoop, ever-present, was there to tag out Mondesi who had rounded the bag.
"I've played for many managers who tell me on every play you have somewhere to go," Schoop said. "Even though I was far from the play, you still have to go somewhere. As soon as the ball dropped, I knew I've got to go to first base.
"I just always remind myself, I've got to have someplace to go, even if I'm not a part of the play."
These little plays, the Tigers know full-well, can be the difference between winning and losing games. Just like the five superb plays Candelario made in the game, none better than the hard-hit (98.4 mph exit velocity) smash by Whit Merrifield that he back-handed to end the eighth inning.
"We're hungry here," Gardenhire said. "We know how many games there are (in the season) and we've talked about getting off to a fast start. We have some young guys we're trying to mix in here but we also have some veterans that know how to play."
The Tigers trailed 3-0 entering the bottom of the third.
Rule 5 rookie Rony Garcia made his Major League Baseball debut for the Tigers and pitched reasonably well. The lone smudge came in the top of the third when Merrifield, the preeminent Tiger killer, hit a three-run home run to left-center.
Garcia, who hadn’t pitched above Double-A, was unruffled. He bowed his neck and struck out the next two hitters — Jorge Soler and Mondesi.
"Really happy for him," Gardenhire said. "The big smile he wore when he went out to the mound for his first major league start, pretty special. And he gave us three innings and striking out those two was fantastic."
The Tigers' hitters had a response, too.
The bottom of the third started with a fright. JaCoby Jones was struck with a 93-mph fastball from Royals starter Kyle Zimmer in the face. Fortunately for Jones, since he had his jaw broken with a pitch in 2017, he’s worn a protective flap extending over his jaw — which is where the ball struck him.
He was dazed but stayed in the game. And promptly trotted home on a 442-foot home run by Schoop, who stayed on an 85-mph change-up from reliever Tyler Zuber. After a walk to Cron, Christin Stewart unloaded — a 404-foot home run to left.
"I never hit a ball there before," Schoop said. "I think maybe the wind must've got it (laughing). I knew I hit it good, but you don't ever know here. I kept yelling for it to get up, get up."
It was the eighth longest home run of his career. And the Tigers bullpen did the rest — in impressive fashion — six innings, two hits, no runs, no walks, four strikeouts.
"Everybody is working hard every day and tonight was one of those nights we did our job," said closer Joe Jimenez, who has saved all three Tigers' wins. "It feels good that we are winning. That's the main thing."
Tyler Alexander (two innings, two strikeouts), Jose Cisnero (one inning), Gregory Soto (one inning, two strikeouts) and Buck Farmer (one inning) building a sturdy bridge to Jimenez — who ended the game striking out Salvador Perez with a high fastball.
"From the sixth to the ninth, it just feels like the hitters have no chance," Jimenez said. "Cisneros, Soto, Buck, everybody brings a little something different to the mix. We're excited and we're going to continue doing our jobs."