'We did a lot of things right': Tigers show maturity, take series from Reds
Cincinnati — There's no need to characterize wins. They all count the same.
But there was a maturity about the Tigers' series-clinching 4-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds Sunday at Great American Ball Park that shouldn't go unappreciated.
"Every win is important at this level," manager AJ Hinch said. "But we did a lot of things right today. We played hard and we did put pressure on them."
Taking a road series from a team very much in playoff contention and beating one of the best pitchers in the game — Luis Castillo — is just the start of it. Examine the sixth inning. It was a scoreless game and rookie Akil Baddoo led off with a double.
Back in the third inning, Castillo had buzzed Baddoo with an inside fastball. He jumped out of the way so fast his helmet flew off his head. But Baddoo reattached his helmet, stepped back in the box and lined a single, the Tigers' first hit of the game.
A message was sent and received.
Then in the sixth, Baddoo was still on second with one out. Robbie Grossman, who had struck out five times in his last seven at-bats in the series, hustled down the line and forced first baseman Joey Votto to hurry and ultimately botch the play.
And what seemed innocuous at the time, Grossman stole second base.
"That steal set up moving the first baseman off the line," Hinch said, meaning Votto didn't have to hold a runner at first and was playing back and off the line.
It opened the line up for Jeimer Candelario, who ripped a ball just inside the bag and into the right-field corner — a two-run triple. He would score the third run of the inning on a sacrifice lineout to right by Eric Haase — just beating a good throw from right fielder Nick Castellanos.
He alertly slid around catcher Tucker Barnhart and slapped home plate with his hand.
"That was awesome," said Candelario, who is enjoying the best offensive season of his career. "Robbie getting that extra base. That's what AJ always tells us. Take that extra base, get closer to home plate. That was huge for us."
Speaking of maturity, go inside Candelario's game-winning at-bat. Castillo fed him four straight change-ups. When the count was 3-1, you wouldn’t have blamed Candelario for gearing up for an upper-90s fastball. But Castillo stayed with the off-speed pitch and Candelario was right on it.
"He had an open base and he didn't want to give in to me," Candelario said. "He threw a change-up. It was a tough change-up. I was just looking for something to hit. I saw that pitch and I saw that I could put a good swing on it."
He's been doing that a lot lately. With 24 games still to go, Candelario has posted personal best in hits (135), doubles (major league-leading 39), triples (three), RBIs (55) and total bases (216). He’s got an .806 OPS hitting left-handed and a .794 OPS hitting right-handed.
Since July 3, covering 55 games (before Sunday), he slashed .303/.372/.548 with a .920 OPS. Just consistently productive.
"We beat a good pitcher today," Hinch said. "Castillo is really good. If you ask the hitters around the league, not just our guys, there's not a lot of guys racing up to the batter's box. You've got to pack a lunch and be ready for a battle against him.
"Our offensive approach today was really good."
Baddoo's legs produced the fourth run for the Tigers. He walked to start the eighth and scored from first on a single to center by Jonathan Schoop. He was running on the pitch, but it was an aggressive play and he scored without a play at the plate.
"He was in motion and it was a real aggressive send by (third base coach Ramon) Santiago," Hinch said. "It's not a play you see a lot of but a play where speed matters."
But for a little drama in the eighth inning, the Tigers kept the Reds' power bats quiet.
After rookie Casey Mize set that tone with three perfect innings — he will be on a three-inning pitch limit for the rest of the season — relievers Jose Urena (2⅔ innings) and Michael Fulmer (four straight outs) kept the Reds off the board through seven innings.
"Our bullpen was asked to do some things today," Hinch said. "Urena had to go two-plus, one-plus for Fulmer, one-plus for Gregory Soto — things they can do but we've trained for that. We practice for that. We preach that.
"So it's nice to see it come together."
Things got dicey in the eighth after Jose Cisnero had the misfortune of facing Max Schrock to start the eighth. A mere 13 pitches later, Schrock worked a walk. After a one-out single put runners on the corners, Hinch brought in Soto.
After the Tigers blew a three-run lead Saturday, he wanted to stop the bleeding immediately.
"After that 13-pitch at-bat, it felt like the momentum of the inning started getting away from us," Hinch said. "Soto is at the back end of our bullpen for a reason. I thought he showed his maturity there after he sprayed a few pitches early, he was able to lock back in."
After uncorking a wild pitch to allow Schrock to score, Soto struck out Castellanos and Votto, throwing grimy sliders off 99-mph and 100-mph sinkers.
Soto pitched a clean ninth to earn a five-out save, his 18th.
"I think we've been doing a pretty good job against good teams," Candelario said. "That's a really good team. They're battling to go to the playoffs. But I think we do a good job of putting ourselves in a good position to win no matter who we play."