'A bummer': Injury to JaCoby Jones dampens an otherwise sizzling win for streaking Tigers
Milwaukee — JaCoby Jones, unlike most of the other younger Tigers players, got a little taste of this back in 2016.
“I didn’t play much in the last 10 games, just was mostly a pinch-runner,” he said before the game Tuesday. “But just that atmosphere in the clubhouse, how excited everyone was, knowing that every pitch was pressure. It was so much fun.”
He’s talking about being in a playoff race. The Tigers went into the game at Miller Park just 1.5 games out of a wild-card spot with just 28 games left. For players like Victor Reyes, Niko Goodrum, Jeimer Candelario, Christin Stewart and just about every pitcher on the roster — this is uncharted territory.
“We’re close, we’re in striking distance to first place and to a wild-card spot, this month is going to be huge,” Jones said. “Every pitch counts. Everything matters. I’ve been waiting for this for three years. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
It sure looked like it on Tuesday. The Tigers, loud and lively in the dugout and on the field, beat the Brewers 12-1 at Miller Park. It was their sixth straight win and puts them over .500 (17-16) for the first time since Aug. 15.
It also moves them within a half-game of a wild-card spot.
Ironically, cruelly, Jones may not be able to participate in this playoff run, either. He is likely lost for the season after being hit in the left hand in the eighth inning by sidearming reliever Phil Bickford.
Jones, visibly and audibly upset, came out of the game. Tigers' initial report was there was a fracture in the left hand. Jones' season last year was ended in August when a pitch fractured a bone in his left wrist.
"Really unfortunate," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It is part of the game, but this is a guy who was starting to really take off. He was playing really well. But he will rebound from this. It's just going to be a bummer from here on out (this season)."
Gardenhire talked to general manager Al Avila for a long time after the game trying to figure out how they are going shuffle things without Jones.
"We're still working on it," he said. "Reyes will move to center field for sure. (Travis) Demeritte will probably play in right with (Jorge) Bonifacio and (Christin) Stewart in left. We have a lot going on. We're going to gather ourselves here and see how things are tomorrow."
Goodrum grabbed at his oblique area after making an out in the eighth inning. He finished the game, but Gardenhire said he will be checked out, as well.
"He says he's fine, and he's been playing with this for a while," Gardenhire said. "My guess is we'll give him a day (off) tomorrow. We're concerned about this. He always says he's fine, but we've got to be a little smart about this."
The injury to Jones cast a pall on an otherwise sizzling performance by the Tigers' offense.
The first spark came from Stewart. He got an 89-mph fastball from Brewers starter Josh Lindblom in his happy zone — down and in — and he poleaxed it into the right-field seats. His third homer of the year.
Stewart made a big play defensively in the bottom of the third inning, as well. Ben Gamel led off with a single to left and tried to stretch it into a double. Stewart, who was playing unusually deep against the left-handed hitter, circled the ball and got all his momentum behind the throw, nailing Gamel at second.
More:Five reasons the Tigers were able to reverse their fortunes, get in playoff race (🔒subscription required)
"That throw was just unbelievable," said Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer. "Stew has been working so hard on his defense, to see him hose Gamel at second like that was a big boost. Kind of a turning point to help get us out of that third inning."
Second spark: Willi Castro doubled and scored in the third inning, then he came up clutch in the fourth. Jones led off with a walk. He stole second and went to third on an errant throw by catcher Omar Narvaez.
Lindblom got Stewart to pop out and he struck out Grayson Greiner. It was a 2-0 game at that point and had Lindblom escaped that jam, a dead Brewers team may have been resuscitated.
Castro didn’t let that happen. He went down and golfed a low slider down the right-field line — RBI triple.
Third spark was more like a flamethrower: Reyes had himself a night. Three singles, a 416-foot home run and a career-best five RBIs.
His second single of the game followed Castro’s triple in the fourth to put the Tigers up 4-0. Then he ruined Justin Topa’s big-league debut in the fifth.
With two outs and a man on, he barreled up a 97-mph fastball and hit it into the Toyota Territory box beyond the wall in right-center field.
He made Bickford pay for hitting Jones and Bonifacio in the eighth, lining a two-out, two-strike, two-run single to left.
Since Aug. 14, Reyes has hit .333 with three doubles, two triples and two home runs, raising his average over .300 on the season.
Fulmer didn’t exactly spark anything with his labor-intensive three innings of work, but he certainly set the battle level high for the rest of the game.
"That was another step in the right direction for him," Gardenhire said. "He struggled in the first, but his last two innings were great."
More:Wojo: Enjoy the Tigers’ unexpected ride, wherever it may be going (subscription required)
What a first inning. He threw 29 pitches, went to three-ball counts on four hitters, gave up a walk and a single. And yet, he walked off the mound after striking out the side without allowing a run.
He ended up throwing three scoreless innings, though it took him 65 pitches. He used all five of his pitches, even mixing in three curveballs. His change-up was an effective pitch for him, too. He ended up with six strikeouts in 13 batters.
He hadn’t struck out six batters in a game since July 8, 2018.
Lefty Daniel Norris got six straight outs before running into some trouble in the sixth. Christian Yelich blasted his ninth home run of the season and then with one out, Norris gave up three straight singles.
He left a bases-loaded, one-out mess for right-hander Bryan Garcia, which he cleaned up without much bother. He won an eight-pitch at-bat with Eric Sogard, getting him to foul out near the Tigers’ dugout, and then got Orlando Arcia to fly meekly to center.
"There are a few guys we trust in that bullpen," Gardenhire said. "We trust them to make pitches in situations and Bryan is one of those guys. You don't want to put guys in a bases-loaded situation like that, but that inning happened fast."
Garcia has allowed one earned run in his last 10.1 innings of work.
Jose Cisnero pitched a scoreless seventh, and survived a scare when a liner by Yelich went past his head and nearly clipped the fingers on his right hand.
"We have a lot of confidence in that dugout," Gardenhire said. "It's a good group that's playing together. This isn't going to continue for a long period of time. There's always going to be ups and downs.
"But right now there's a lot of confidence here and the guys are feeling it, and it shows on the field."