'A little bit of old school': Tigers end skid with pitching, defense and timely small ball
Detroit — Late in the game Wednesday, Jake Rogers turned to his fellow catcher Eric Haase in the Tigers dugout.
"Man, I don't think I've had a pop-up, a play at the plate, a bunt play and throw-out in a game in a long time," he said.
Throw in a key sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning and calling and catching nine innings of shutout ball, and Rogers contributed about as much a player can to a victory without getting a base hit.
"We played pretty good baseball today," Rogers said after the Tigers secured a 1-0 win over the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. "I made some good plays, we played some great defense and pitched well — they liked the fingers I was putting down, the pitches I was calling.
"So, good fingers, good defense all around — we fought well."
That is fact, and the reward was stopping a pair of losing streaks -- four games overall and six games to the Indians.
"On a night when there wasn't a lot of action, not a lot to love offensively, it was a good job of executing by our guys," Hinch said. "We had a little bit of old school with the bunt, a little bit of new school with the shifts — just a good team win, one that we needed."
The Tigers broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the eighth.
Niko Goodrum led off with a hustling double off reliever Cal Quantrill. Rogers was up next. Two things to consider: One, Hinch isn't a proponent of the sacrifice bunt. His Astros teams averaged 10 bunt attempts his last three years there. Two, Rogers has attempted four bunts in his big-league career, all in 2019.
But Hinch had Rogers working on his bunting with coach Chip Hale this spring and told him that it would have to be part of his offensive profile.
"I was a pretty good bunter in college and in pro ball I just kind of stopped," Rogers said. "Gardy (former manager Ron Gardenhire) had me bunt a couple of times and I told AJ it was 50-50 if you give it to me."
Before Rogers went to the on-deck circle in the eighth, Hinch told him he was bunting if Goodrum got on.
"I said OK, I'll do it," Rogers said.
He took the first itch, with the first baseman crashing in. The second pitch he fouled back.
"If I'd gotten the barrel on that one it probably would've been a double," he joked.
The third pitch he bunted perfectly to the third baseman, advancing Goodrum to third. Robbie Grossman completed the play with a sacrifice fly to center.
"Such a team at-bat by Jake," Hinch said. "He fouled the first one off and everybody knew he was bunting. The first baseman was crashing, there's a small margin for error. He had to bunt it to third. Just a huge play."
Tigers starter Jose Urena, though he left with two outs in the sixth with cramping in his lower right forearm, allowed just three hits. And the bullpen was set up perfectly: Jose Cisnero got four outs. Michael Fulmer, facing two right-handers, pitched a scoreless eighth. Lefty Gregory Soto, facing two lefties, locked down the ninth, getting a double-play lineout from Josh Naylor to end the game.
Hinch couldn't have scripted better match-ups for his bullpen.
Box score:Tigers 1, Indians 0
"That's the beauty of the bullpen we have, with a weapon on each side," he said. "Having Fulmer and Soto both available tonight was huge and having them come in and do the job was even better."
Rogers and Goodrum, offensive heroes late, were defensive heroes early.
Urena wobbled plenty in the first three innings — threw as many balls as strikes, walked two, hit one, gave up three hits in the second inning alone — but he never fell.
Rogers got Urena out of the first inning by gunning down Jose Ramirez trying to steal second. Goodrum made a smooth pick and tag to complete the play.
In the second, the two combined to snuff out a run at the plate. With two outs, Owen Miller lined one in the gap in left center. Naylor tried to score from first. Center fielder Akil Baddoo cut the ball off and threw a strike to the cut-off man Goodrum.
Goodrum then fired home. Rogers, in one motion, caught the throw on a hop in front of the plate and made a lunging tag on Naylor.
"That play takes athleticism and instincts, and Jake's got both," Hinch said.
It was about as good as you can execute that play.
"It was perfect," Rogers said. "I noticed Naylor was coming around third and it was just instincts. I honestly thought I'd have a better chance to get it and lunge back and to my left, rather than let the ball travel and get that long, in between hop and try to make a quick tag.
"It was two perfect throws and a hop you dream about as a catcher."
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Rogers was alert to Urena's issues, too.
"His actions the whole night seemed a little off," Hinch said. "He's usually a little more animated and free. He had a really awkward reaction to the pitch before we took him out. I looked at Jake. We have that catcher, ex-catcher thing and we just didn't think anything was right."
Urena said he's dealt with a similar cramp before and doesn't think he will miss a start.
The Tigers give out WWE-style belts to the best offensive and defensive players of the game. If there was a defensive belt, Rogers and Goodrum might've had to fight for it.
"I thought I might sneak the offensive player belt with that sacrifice bunt," Rogers joked. "Can I get the offensive belt with an 0-for-2 and a sacrifice bunt in the eighth?"