Diligent Tigers enjoying working overtime, seeing fruits of labor

By Steve Kornacki
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — The Tigers have displayed some real extra-inning magic with back-to-back 11th-inning walk-off wins against teams that are runaway winners in their divisions.

Detroit also improved to 12-7 in extra-inning games and only Seattle, with 13 wins, has more in extras.

Tigers manager AJ Hinch reacts with Derek Hill after Hill's walk-off RBI double to win in the 11th inning Tuesday night.

Tigers manager AJ Hinch was asked to explain how a team that is 57-69 (.442) in nine-inning games has been able to win at a .632 clip in extras.

“Our players, we end up playing well at that point,” Hinch said. “Obviously, we’ve got a lot of experience at it. It’s as many extra-inning games as I’ve ever played. But our players find a way to win. It’s a little more complicated with the runners at second base (to begin each extra inning), but our guys have stepped up.

“The hard part about extra innings is it’s a little random where you are in the batting order. It changes the strategies across the board. You may find yourself in a good part of your order and the other side’s not. Do you bunt? Do you not bunt?”

Hinch wanted Derek Hill to bunt Victor Reyes to third base in the 11th inning of Tuesday night’s 1-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. But when he failed to get two bunts down, Hill was allowed to swing away and lashed a double to right-center.

“He had one objective before two strikes,” Hinch said. "And a different objective after two strikes. I told Derek before the at-bat, get him over or get him in. He was probably really disappointed he didn’t get the runner over with two bunts.

“When I got to him on the field, he half-way apologized he didn’t get the runner over. I said, ‘No, that’s cool. If you’ve ever got to fail, make sure you (then) have success.”

Hinch and Hill hugged during the postgame celebration after another extra-inning “success” story.

“There’s a lot of energy involved — a lot of pressure,” Hinch said of extras. “Every pitch matters. It’s as intense of a time during a game as you’re ever going to have. I’d love to say the first nine innings are that way, but they’re not. So, maybe it brings out the best in us.

“One-run games have been good (20-19 record). We’re very comfortable in our own skin. We’ve comfortable in any situation. So, I think the ability to be yourself in those moments is your DNA.”

According to Sportradar, Tuesday night’s win marked the Tigers’ first 1-0 win in 11-plus innings since July 16, 1976 at Oakland. Detroit is coming off back-to-back 11th-inning walk-off wins. Robbie Grossman’s bases-loaded walk Sunday made it 8-7 winners over the Tampa Bay Rays.

According to Stats Perform, Detroit is the first team in MLB history with back-to-back walk-off wins against two different teams 30-plus games over .500.

Hill’s first walk-off hit was the Tigers’ eighth of the season.

Emerging presence 

When Hill, Detroit’s rookie center fielder, turned the corner and headed to second for his walk-off double in the 11th inning Tuesday night, it was another example of how his career also has turned that proverbial corner.

Hill was drafted in the first round by Detroit in 2014 out of Elk Grove (Calif.) High, and it took him six years to reach the majors. He went 1-for-11 in 2020.

But it wasn’t until Hinch took note in spring training this year that his stock finally began rising.

Hill’s ability to take away hits in the middle of the outfield, speed (six steals) and dependable hitting have sent a signal to the organization that he’s likely part of the future.

Hill, 25, entered Wednesday's game batting .260 with three homers and 13 RBI. He’s had two three-hit games, back-to-back homer games and a three-RBI game.

“In spring training this year is where I’d say he definitely caught my eye,” Hinch said. “Until you get in the trenches with someone, it’s hard to make a judgment.”

Holland responding

Tigers veteran left-handed reliver Derek Holland had a 14.63 ERA at the end of April, and it was still at 10.06 July 11. However, he posted a 1.29 ERA from July 7 to Aug. 15, and it’s down to 5.61 after 1.1 innings of scoreless pitching Tuesday against Milwaukee.

“Derek’s done a good job,” Hinch said. “As a veteran player, you expect him to be able to handle difficulties at the beginning of the year and respond.

“And I don’t think I’ve seen a player turn the corner as much as him. At the beginning of the year, he was really struggling. He was trying to find the strike zone. Trying to find the velocity … I am proud of him.”

Holland, 34, is 82-83 with a 4.64 ERA since making his debut in 2009, and was 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA and four shutouts for the Texas Rangers in 2011. He can make a spot start for Detroit, but now lives in the bullpen. And he’s beginning to make an impact there.

Around the horn

Left-handed pitcher Daniel Norris made his first trip to Detroit as an opponent, and during batting practice he walked from the Brewers’ dugout toward home plate and threw a ground ball toward his former teammates.

Tigers pitchers were walking in from the bullpen, and Holland picked up the ball and walked toward Norris. He hacky-sack kicked the horsehide to Norris, and before long seven former teammates or coaches surrounded him. They talked for several minutes, and it was a nice scene that displayed how friendship doesn’t change with uniform colors.

... Detroit relievers threw five shutout innings Tuesday, and its bullpen has a 3.44 ERA (235.2 innings, 90 earned runs) to rank third in the American League since the All-Star break.

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.

On deck: At Rays

► First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Thursday, Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida

 TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM

►Probables: Thursday — RHP Dietrich Enns (1-0, 3.38) vs. LHP Tyler Alexander (2-2, 4.09); Friday — TBA vs. RHP Casey Mize (7-8, 3.66); Saturday — RHP Luis Patino (4-3, 4.62) vs. LHP Tarik Skubal (8-12, 4.21); Sunday — TBA vs. RHP Wily Peralta (3-3, 3.32)

Scouting report

► Alexander, Tigers: Alexander is the choice to return to the rotation with Matthew Boyd on the 10-day injured list. It’s a familiar spot for the versatile gamer, who will be making his 12th start in his 38th game of the season. Alexander has been consistent in any role, and has a 2.00 ERA with 10 strikeouts in nine innings pitched in September. He’s logged 83.2 innings with 71 strikeouts and 21 walks in 2021.

► Enns, Rays: What were the Tigers able to pick up after Enns blanked them for four innings Sept. 11 at Detroit, when he didn’t allow a hit or walk and struck out six in the longest stint of his eight-game MLB career? His parents and Central Michigan teammates also shared in his first career win at Comerica Park. Drafted by the New York Yankees in the 19th round in 2012, he threw two games for the Minnesota Twins in 2017 before resurfacing with pitching-smart Tampa Bay after a stint in the independent Frontier League with the Tully Monsters from Joliet, Ill. He has 19 strikeouts in 16 innings with one save this season.

—  Steve Kornacki