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'He's swinging it real good': Tigers' JaCoby Jones exacts his revenge on Royals with game-winning homer

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – Don't poke the bear.

JaCoby Jones was already a little snarly coming into this series against the Royals. It was a little over a year ago when Royals right-hander Jorge Lopez broke his wrist with a 95-mph fastball and ended his season.

Then, in the third inning Tuesday, Royals pitcher Kyle Zimmer hit him in the face with a 93-mph fastball. Fortunately, the ball hit the chin guard he's worn since he got hit in the same spot in 2017.

"I was debating whether or not to go out (to the mound)," Jones said. "I was so mad, I didn't talk to anybody the rest of the game."

He was still seething Wednesday and he exacted his revenge.

Detroit Tigers' JaCoby Jones rounds the bases after a solo home-run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Detroit.

Jones doubled in his first two at-bats and then with one out in the seventh against right-hander Ian Kennedy, he lined an opposite-field missile (100.4 mph exit velocity) into the seats in right field to provide the winning margin in the Tigers 5-4 win over the Royals at Comerica Park.

More: Buck Farmer lifts curtain on Tigers' cohesive, comfortable clubhouse chemistry

"I'm not that angry, it just sucks getting hit in the head," Jones said. "Pitchers going up and in on me all the time. These guys (the Royals) are the ones who pitch up and in on me last year and broke my wrist. That's frustrating and getting hit in the face yesterday topped it off.

"But I'm over it. We got the W, so if we keep doing that I'll be happy."

Jones is now 8 for 19 with two doubles, three homers, six RBI and six runs scored in six games. Sizable production out of the No. 9 spot in the batting order.  

Detroit Tigers' Jonathan Schoop connects for a two-run home run to right field during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Detroit.

"He's swinging it real good," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's using a short swing, using the whole field and driving the baseball. He's plays a dominant center field and he's feeling good up there -- it's good to see."

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop has been raking, too. He knocked in three runs with a sacrifice fly in the third and a game-tying two-run home run in the fifth. This one not quite as prodigious as the 447-footer he put into the shrubs on Tuesday. This one bounced off the top of the wall in right field and went out.

The Tigers have now homered in all six games this year. Their league-best 12 homers have accounted for 20 of the team’s 25 runs scored this season.

"When we get behind, we don't have much fear," Gardenhire said of the club's third come-from-behind win. "When you've got guys who can pop a baseball and get you back into the game, these are things we really struggled with last year. When we got behind, we didn't have the weapons or the experience to figure out how to get back in.

"Most of these guys here understand, you just keep playing and good things will happen."

The offense bailed out Tigers starter Matthew Boyd, who had his second straight laborious outing. 

His pace was slow. He was struggling to repeat his delivery, unable it seemed to hit his location on successive pitches. The velocity on his fastball was down a tick, but more distressing was the lack of late life on it.

"It's all about pace and mechanics now," Gardenhire said. "I think he might be overthinking rather than the catcher putting down a sign and making a pitch. Matty understands He knows he has to get better.

"The pace of the game wasn't good. Five innings at a slow pace, him trying to figure things out. Maybe it's as simple as when the catcher puts the sign down, take it and go and keep the game moving."

More: Tigers' Tyler Alexander seeks spot as starter, but adapts to bullpen role

And yet, Boyd soldiered through five innings. He struck out six, got 14 swings and misses, didn’t walk anyone and three of the nine hits, including two RBI singles, had exit velocities under 80 mph.

Hard to know what to make of it. That’s two uncharacteristic starts by Boyd — not god-awful but not anywhere near his talent and capability — in a season he might get just 12 total.

"It's mechanics and mental," Boyd said. "I was running away from my fastball. It was going (side to side) instead of up and down. I know how to make that adjustment. And pick up my tempo. That's one thing that's so beneficial for me. A quick tempo between pitches carries over to my delivery."

All the real damage against Boyd came in the first three innings. Whit Merrifield, who extended his hitting streak against the Tigers to 16 games and his hit streak against Boyd to nine straight at-bats, doubled to start the game and scored on a two-out double by Maikel Franco.

Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joe Jimenez and catcher Grayson Greiner greet each other after the Tigers' 5-4 win over the Kansas City Royals in a baseball game, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Detroit.

The Franco at-bat was typical of Boyd’s early struggles. He threw some darting sliders to Jorge Soler and Salvador Perez, but on a 1-0 count to Franco, he left a slider up and over plate.

Same with Adalberto Mondesi to start the third — slider up in the zone, triple. Merrifield and Soler singled off his slider to start the third, both would score, but Boyd started mixing in a knuckle-curve and spotting his fastball better.

He was at 89 pitches after pitching scoreless fourth and fifth innings when manager Ron Gardenhire went to the bullpen.

"He'll be OK," Gardenhire said. "We'll just keep running him out there. Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) will have a conversation with him and I'm going to talk to him. If he can pick up the pace and attack hitters a little more -- we know how good he can be, how good he is.

"Right now his head is spinning a little bit, which happens."

And the bullpen, for the second night in a row, was money. After preserving a one-run lead with six scoreless innings Tuesday, four relievers pitched perfect baseball for four innings. 

John Schreiber, Bryan Garcia (who earned his first career win) and Buck Farmer retired nine straight hitters between the sixth and eighth innings. That got the game to closer Joe Jimenez who completed the bullpen perfecto. Three-up, three-down, for his fourth save.  

Impressive.

"We have a lot of guys down there we can trust now," Gardenhire said. "We said it, we knew we had to come out swinging and play hard every day and so far so good. This is a tough schedule, we're playing 20 in a row here.

"But we've got plenty of players, a big roster. Just have to keep swinging and getting after it. I like what I see so far."

The Tigers are off to a 4-2 start, one-tenth through this 60-game season. 

Twitter @cmccosky