'We still haven't arrived yet': Tigers hang with Jays, but can't solve Jose Berrios
Just so everybody knows, Tigers manager AJ Hinch isn't handing out participation trophies and spirit awards here. And while there have been incredible gains made this season, coming off a run of 345 losses in 3½ years of rebuilding, his team still sits seven games under .500 and all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
"I don't want five, six, seven games under .500 and just competing hard to be the end-all, be-all," Hinch said before the Tigers were beaten by the Toronto Blue Jays, 2-1, on Sunday at Comerica Park. "It's a good step. It's a needed step. We worked our tails off to be relevant. But we haven't arrived yet.
"I don't want to try hard and get complimented for trying."
The Tigers' last eight games were decided by three runs or fewer. Four of them went extra innings. And they won four of those games, despite only scoring 20 runs total. So despite hitting a dead zone offensively, the Tigers are for sure competing.
They have two games left to secure their fourth straight winning month. But, again, there are no parades for winning months.
"I want to continue to push our guys to realize that playing six months of winning baseball is hard," Hinch said. "We need one or two wins to secure another winning month (they are 12-12 in August) but being one or two games over .500 a month isn't enough when you've had a bad month of April like we did.
"I'm proud of these guys. We're doing the right things. But we have a ways to go."
Neither the Tigers nor Mother Nature could throw All-Star right-hander Jose Berrios off his game Sunday. He struck out 11 in seven innings, throwing 97 pitches, 74 for strikes — an impressive 76% strike rate.
"It's a tough league, man," Hinch said when asked about the recent offensive lull. "There's good pitching and they've done a good job against us. Today Berrios was in charge. But I think it's part of baseball. We're competing and trying to do the best we can, fighting through a little bit of a lull. But lulls come in different ways."
After Berrios cruised through the first four innings, allowing just three hits, the game was halted by pop-up rain shower in the middle of the fifth inning. Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoya was furious at the decision to pull the tarp and delay the game.
And to validate his beef, the rain lasted about five minutes, though the delay was 26 minutes. Berrios wasn’t much affected, though. He came back out and struck out three Tigers around a Victor Reyes double in the bottom of the fifth.
"We were told they felt like it was going to be a 30-minute storm, depending on how the rain came," Hinch said. "I understand what Charlie was saying. It's his starter. We had already gone to the bullpen. But they thought it was coming and it was dangerous, that it would come fast and hard.
"They chose to tarp it and resume the game as quickly as they could and Berrios was able to come back. No harm, no foul, but I understand Charlie's frustration."
The Tigers essentially had one chance to get to Berrios, in the sixth inning, and they wasted it. Jonathan Schoop reached on a error by third baseman Kevin Smith and Robbie Grossman followed with a double that glanced off first baseman Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.’s glove.
But the Tigers would only manage a run, that on a two-out single by Harold Castro. The inning stalled when Berrios, after fielding a grounder by Miguel Cabrera, caught Grossman too far off second base and threw him out.
Castro’s hit came after Jeimer Candelario struck out, chasing a pitch out of the zone.
"Guys were coming back talking about his front-door (inside) two-seamer to lefties," Hinch said. "He always has a good breaking ball and when he commands it, he's really tough. He got us to expand (the strike zone) and got us looking with movement on his fastball.
"He's a really good pitcher. That's why they traded for him at the deadline."
Berrios upstaged the return of Tigers' lefty Matthew Boyd, who allowed just two solo homer in four innings after being on the injured list since June 14 with general arm soreness.
"The first three innings I lacked rhythm and tempo within my delivery and I was erratic with all my pitches," said Boyd, who needed 71 pitches to get through the four innings, 27 of them in the first inning.
"I made pitches when I needed to, I changed speeds well, but whether you attribute it to being back on a big-league mound for the first time in two months or not, but in the fourth I started to sync up the right way. Unfortunately, I wasted my pitch count over the first three."
Still, the only damage a very dangerous, right-handed heavy Blue Jays lineup did against him were the two solo home runs. Bo Bichette hit a high, two-seamer out to right field in the first inning and Kevin Smith hit a two-seamer that was down and in over the fence in left in the fourth for his first big-league homer.
"I had just missed away to Bichette and I wanted to get in on him," Boyd said. "I missed up and away. It's a high, arm-side miss — that happens, but it shouldn't happen. And to Smith, I tried to go up and in and I left it down and in.
"It's unfortunate that second homer was the difference in the game."
Boyd had his moments, though. He stuck out five and got 11 swings and misses.
"It's just great to see him back on the mound and back with us," Hinch said. "He was our Opening Day starter and he's a real presence in our clubhouse. That means something. When he's on the mound, we feel like we have a chance to win the game."