Hammerin' and hustlin' Eric Haase has career day in Tigers' rout of White Sox
Detroit – Eric Haase had a couple of things working against him in the fourth inning Saturday when he drove a sinking liner into center field.
One, speedy Billy Hamilton was playing center field for the Chicago White Sox and, as he typically does, he was playing relatively shallow. Two, Miguel Cabrera, less than speedy, was on first base — not unlike being stuck behind a pulling guard on an open field run.
And three, it’s probably been since his days at Dearborn Divine Child that he’s had to sprint four bases in one long gallop.
"No fences at DC," Haase said after the Tigers finished off a rousing 11-5 win over the division-leading White Sox at Comerica Park. "You had to earn it."
So when Hamilton dove and missed Haase’s liner, the odds were only about even that he’d chase Cabrera all the way to home plate, let alone score himself.
But the ball rolled to the wall in center, 420 feet from home plate, and when the dust settled, Jonathan Schoop, Cabrera and Haase all scored on the inside-the-park home run.
"I didn't exactly get out of the box too quick because I hit it hard and right at him. Miggy and Schoop had to wait to see if it got down," Haase said. "But when he dove and it got by him, I knew it was time to turn it on and I was going until Chip (Hale, third-base coach) stopped me."
It was a wonderful moment for the Tigers. And Haase wasn’t done.
"I've said it before," Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. "When Haase homers once, stick around because he might homer twice."
Yep. Haase followed up the “Little League home run” with a big-boy blast, another three-run opposite field shot into the seats in right-center that broke the game open in the seventh. It gave him his fourth multi-homer game of the season (No. 10 and 11) and a career-high six RBIs.
"So much fun," he said. "Just great team energy. I just feels like we're in every game. Last night didn't go the way we wanted but we just battled through. We were on the bases all day, just creating a ton of traffic.
"Those at-bats are fun when you have them over and over."
It wasn't quite as much fun looking at it from the other side. White Sox starter Dallas Keuchel, whom the Tigers chased with a four-run fifth inning, questioned his club's analytics and positioning strategy.
He, for one, didn't think Hamilton was playing in enough on Haase's inside-the-parker.
"I don't have any problem with what happened on the play. That's a baseball play," Keuchel said. "I have a concern because you don't let your best athletes play any more. It's a numbers game. ... You've got so much field to lose.
"Everybody's concerned about giving up slugging percentage now and I'm a groundball pitcher. If I give up a hard-hit ball, it's usually going to fall in front of somebody and if not, it's going to go over the fence. I don't know how some of these numbers translate to playing deep. I've been having a problem with that for years."
It was just the Tigers' third win in 12 games against the White Sox this season, and first in the last six.
"It's big, especially in the division," Haase said. "Wins we take from wherever we can get them, but being in the division, especially against these guys who have notoriously beat us up a lot, it was big."
Speaking of big, Schoop ended the Tigers' day with flourish. He put a serious charge (107.6 mph off his bat) on a hanging breaking ball from Matt Foster in the eighth inning and hit it into the shrubbery in center field — 440 feet. It was his team-leading 16th homer.
"That was fantastic," Haase said. "We've been joking all the time that center field has been an absolute dead zone. Schoop has flown out on balls he's hit 110 mph and guys have run them down. It's been a burden trying to hit homers to dead center and Schoop just muscled it up."
Before all the late fireworks, though, it was a 7-5, seesawing game. That was before Joe Jimenez took over for rookie lefty Tarik Skubal, who will have better days (five runs in five innings) and struck out the side in the sixth.
What a renaissance it's been for Jimenez, the one time closer who didn't make the team out of spring training and has twice been demoted to Triple-A this season.
"He's had quite a season," Hinch said. "Probably as low as he's ever been to start a season, getting sent down a couple of times and then bouncing back and getting closer and closer to (being used in) leverage situations. Things are clicking for him."
In his last 9 1/3 innings, Jimenez has allowed two earned runs with 11 strikeouts and just two walks.
"Joe deserves a lot of the credit," Hinch said. "(Pitching coaches) Chris Fetter and Juan Nieves have done a great job with him both mentally and physically. I trust him a lot. I said early in the season that our best bullpen has Joe Jimenez in it."
The difference, at least as Hinch sees it, is that Jimenez has gone back to being a fastball pitcher. He threw 12 four-seam fastballs Saturday with a velocity range of 95-97 mph — that's the vintage velocity from his All-Star season in 2018.
"As the season has gone along his velocity has ticked up a little bit and he's gotten away from being that finesse slider, breaking ball guy," Hinch said. "He's becoming a power pitcher again and his breaking ball has gotten better and his change-up is good. But mostly he's been able to rear back and get his fastball in areas to miss bats.
"His three punch-outs in the middle of the game shouldn't be lost in the game story. He was a big part of us getting to the back end."