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Tigers' Jose Cisnero wins clutch power vs. power showdown with Cubs' Javier Baez

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – It got lost in the shuffle a little bit Wednesday night, but Tigers right-hander Jose Cisnero and Cubs’ star Javier Baez had themselves a righteous confrontation with the game on the line in the seventh inning.

The Tigers had just rallied for five runs in the bottom of the sixth to take a 6-3 lead. Right-hander Bryan Garcia was summoned for the seventh inning and he quickly got into some trouble. With two on and two out, manager Ron Gardenhire brought in Cisnero to face Baez.

“He’s been really good for us and Bryan was scuffling a little bit,” Gardenhire said. “We were hoping Bryan could get through that seventh but we knew Cisnero was a good match-up with Baez so, it’s all about trying to win a ballgame.”

Cisnero in his 11 previous outings had allowed one run, with 12 strikeouts and four walks. Opponents were hitting .140 against him.

Tigers pitcher Jose Cisnero works in the seventh inning Wednesday night.

“When I was in the bullpen, I had a plan for facing Baez,” Cisnero said through Tigers translator Carlos Guillen. “I said to myself, I am going to be aggressive and pitch inside. If he hits a home run against my best pitch, so be it.”

Catcher Austin Romine had watched Baez hit a pair of home runs Monday on pitches on the outside part of the plate, so he was on-board with pitching Baez in.

“He’s got a good four-seam fastball with a lot of carry up in the zone,” Romine said. “With Baez, we were trying to stay in tight and not let him get his arms extended.”

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The average velocity on Cisnero’s four-seamer is 96.3 mph. It also has, to Romine’s point about the carry through the zone, an above average spin rate (2,408 rpm). To say he was amped up against Baez Wednesday would be, well, unnecessary. The sizzle on his fastballs told that tale. 

Cisnero threw him two fastballs, both at 97 mph and Baez fouled them both back. Then Romine went off-script for one pitch and it nearly cost them. Romine wanted Cisnero to throw his slider off the plate, just a chase pitch and nothing more.

It ended up spinning over the heart of the plate.

“After I threw that slider, I said, ‘No, I’m not going to do that again,’” Cisnero said. “Thank you for missing that ball.”

Baez swung just under the pitch, fouling it back. He stepped out of the box, shaking his head. He knew he missed one.

“Romine, he removed that slider from the pitch sequence after that,” Cisnero said. “He said to keep powering the fastball.”

Cisnero’s next two pitches were 98 mph, both up in the zone. Baez fouled the first one off and but couldn’t catch up to the second one. Big moment in the game for the Tigers and a big moment for Cisnero as he transitions into a higher-leverage role at the back end of the Tigers bullpen.

“I am living my best moment right now,” Cisnero said. “I feel good. I feel healthy. I feel like all the work I’ve done is paying off for me and allowing me to do what I need to do.”

Gardenhire on Wednesday announced that he was moving a struggling Joe Jimenez out of the closer role for the time being. The reason he was able to do that is because of the effectiveness of Cisneros, Gregory Soto and Buck Farmer.

“I didn’t expect that,” Cisnero said of the change. “Just having the job now (working in the later innings), I want to keep it. I want to keep doing the same things I was doing when I pitched in the fifth and sixth innings.

“Whenever the manager wants to use me, I’m going to be there for the team.”

Tough as nails 

A smile spread across Romine’s face in his post-game Zoom interview. He was asked about the ball he fouled off his knee in the second inning.

“It hurt a lot,” he deadpanned.

He was clearly in pain, but he stayed in and wound up producing three hits and two RBIs. Asked if he was close to coming out of the game, Romine said, “They’re going to have to wheelbarrow me off the field. I’m not coming out. I’ve spent too much time not playing.

“No, they’re going to have to drag me off the field.”

Romine, who spent parts of eight seasons as a back-up catcher in the Yankees system, was going to get Thursday off even before the game was canceled. He was asked if he needed more than one day to recover.

“No, never,” he said. “Being a catcher, you get hit with baseballs. It is what it is. You just find a way to get through it.”

Around the horn 

►This from Austin Drake of FSD: With his next hit, Miguel Cabrera will become the 16th player in MLB history to rank in the top 50 all-time in hits, home runs and RBIs. His next hit will be No. 2,839 and tie him with former Tigers great Charlie Gehringer for 50th place.

►General manager Al Avila said utility man Harold Castro (hamstring) was close to returning to the active roster. 

Twins at Tigers

Straight doubleheader; each game seven innings.

Game 1: 1:10 p.m.

Game 2: Approximately 4:10 p.m. (30 minutes after conclusion of Game 1)

TV/radio: FSD, 97.1

GAME 1

Randy Dobnak (5-1, 1.78), Twins: It was just 2017 when Dobnak was pitching for the Utica (Michigan) Unicorns in the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL). He has had impeccable command with his sinker, slider, change-up mix all years and hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any start this season.

Matthew Boyd (0-4, 8.48), Tigers: He looked much more like himself in his last start. His fastball command was vastly improved over his first five starts and he was able to effectively mix in his change-up, slider and curveball. He struck out six and allowed two runs in 5.1 innings.

GAME 2

LHP Tarik Skubal (0-1, 10.38), Tigers: It will be interesting to see how Skubal adjusts after the Indians fouled off 17 pitches, nine fastballs, against him in his last start. He struck out five and had 11 swings and misses, an indication that he wasn’t far off from dominating a good-hitting lineup.

Twitter: @cmccosky