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Plesac perplexes Tigers, who lose second straight to Indians, 1-0

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – It was baseball oddity night at Comerica Park Friday. First an immaculate inning and then an attempted steal of home. If one of the teams managed to pull off a triple-play, it would’ve truly been one for the ages.

The Tigers would've gladly settled for a couple of runs. 

Detroit Tigers catcher Austin Romine tags Cleveland Indians' Jose Ramirez (11) out attempting to steal home plate in the fourth inning.

After being subdued by Shane Bieber on Thursday, they were virtually smothered by right-hander Zach Plesac, who pitched seven shutout innings and the Indians beat the Tigers 1-0 on a chilly Friday night at Comerica Park. 

"I like the way our guys are staying after it," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's frustrating when we lose like that. A lot of stuff went on in this game, but this is a very competitive team that we have.

"We had a chance to tie it or even win it at the end. We just didn't get that one big hit."

BOX SCORE: Indians 1, Tigers 0

Plesac allowed five hits and struck out 11 in 7⅔ innings. He was lifted after he allowed a two-out single to Victor Reyes in the eighth. Right-handed reliever James Karinchak walked Willi Castro to put the tying run in scoring position.

But he struck out Miguel Cabrera to end the inning. 

In the ninth, against closer Brad Hand, rookie Daz Cameron drilled a pinch-hit triple to left-center field with one out. Hand had frozen him with two breaking balls, but on 0-2, threw him a 90-mph fastball in the heart of the plate.

Hand didn't rattle. He struck out Jorge Bonifacio on a disputed third strike. It looked like Bonifacio checked his swing, but the first base umpire said he went around. 

"I agree with you 100 percent," Gardenhire said. "If you are saying it, I agree with you. All you can do is raise your hands. That was not a swing, I don't give a (crap) what they say."

More: How Tigers hitting coach Joe Vavra helped Jeimer Candelario unlock his offensive talent

Niko Goodrum struck out on another half swing to end it.

"Yeah, we have some shortcomings and all of that, but I like managing these guys," Gardenhire said. "They're fun in the dugout and they work hard and get after it." 

Plesac's best inning, though, had to be the second when he struck out the side on nine pitches – aka, an immaculate inning. He struck out  Bonifacio, Goodrum and Austin Romine. Only Romine as much as fouled a pitch off.

It was the first time a pitcher did that to the Tigers since the Yankees Dellin Betances got Jim Adduci, Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera on nine pitches in 2017.

The second oddity came in the fourth inning. 

Lefty Tyler Alexander relieved Tigers opener Michael Fulmer with the game scoreless. Fulmer had by far his best outing of the year, blanking the Indians on one hit in his three innings.

But it was clear from the start that Alexander was struggling with his secondary pitches, which made how the inning ended even more curious.

The Indians loaded the bases — a single by Jose Ramirez, a one-out walk to Franmil Reyes and a two-out walk to Jordan Luplow. Alexander then went to a 2-2 count against Roberto Perez. At that point, he had thrown 14 non-fastballs (cutter, change-up and curveball) — three of them were strikes, three were chased and fouled off and eight were balls.

Essentially, the only pitches Alexander commanded with any consistency were his four-seam fastball and sinker.

While Alexander was in the set position, his head down, Ramirez broke from third base. He was more than halfway to the plate before Alexander reacted, but he got the ball to the plate quickly and catcher Austin Romine made a quick tag to get Ramirez.

"My first reaction was, 'Thank you,'" Alexander said. "I don't want to say it was dumb but it didn't seem like the right time to do it."

Alexander said he had no idea how big a lead Ramirez got. He said he checks when he comes set, with his back to third base, and then doesn't usually look a second time.

"I gripped a change-up and as soon as I heard somebody tell me to step off, I did," he said. "I didn't even see the runner, I just threw it to Romine. I was spraying the ball everywhere. I'd walked two guys already and it was a 2-2 count. It wasn't like I was dominating them.

"He must've had a reason (to run), he thought he could get there. I didn't think it was the right time to do that, but thank you for doing it."

The Indians broke the scoreless tie off Alexander in the fifth. With one out, Delino DeShields, Jr., tripled to the gap in left-center. Even though DeShields was batting right-handed against the lefty Alexander, center fielder Victor Reyes was positioned in shallow right-center field.

DeShields scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Francisco Lindor.

"I didn't question (the outfield alignment)," Alexander said. "I don't think in the scouting report it said to throw him a hanging slider right down the middle."

For the record, the Tigers positioned Reyes in the exact same spot when DeShields batted against right-hander Jose Cisnero in the seventh and DeShields hit the ball right to him in shallow right-center. So, go figure.

The Indians had a chance to blow the game open in the top of the ninth. Right-hander Bryan Garcia, who had walked just six batters in 18 innings this season, walked the bases loaded.

With two outs, manager Ron Gardenhire summoned lefty Gregory Soto, who has also had command issues this season. 

His second pitch to Cesar Hernandez was a slider in the dirt. Romine blocked it, but the ball hit the bone on his left wrist. Romine was in extreme pain and immediately left the game. 

Eric Haase replaced him. 

The at-bat went nine pitches but Soto prevailed, getting Hernandez to bounce into a force out at third base. 

Gardenhire said after that X-rays on Romine's wrist were negative.

"He's got a left wrist contusion," he said. "He got hit right on that bone and the hand went numb and the thumb locked up on him. After he got in the clubhouse it loosened up. Just a little nerve thing. He'll be fine."

Twitter @cmccosky