Alexander grinds into the sixth inning, helps keep Tigers' pitching plans in order

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

St. Petersburgh, Fla. — What's amazing about the underhand pitch Tyler Alexander flipped over the hitter-catcher-umpire all the way to the backstop in the fifth inning Thursday was that there was an actual purpose to it.

To set the scene, Rays Manuel Margot asked for — and was given — a timeout by home plate umpire Vic Carapazza, just as Alexander was starting his delivery. Instead of holding the ball or going through with the pitch, Alexander whirled his arm and flipped it softball-style up and over everyone. 

"I've done that my whole career," said Alexander, who grinded through 5.2 innings in the Tigers' 5-2 loss at Tropicana Field. "They call time at that perfect moment when I'm already going. I tell myself, I don't want to stop myself. You know, I'm geared up and then at the last second I hear something.

"And I don't want to throw the pitch because I don't want them to know what's coming."

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Tyler Alexander (70) works from the mound against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning.

But why fling up in the air like that?

"It's a free change of eye level," he said. "If you throw something up in the air, the hitter is going to watch it. It's a little ridiculous but it's my way of shutting down."

One pitch later, Alexander buzzed a 90-mph fastball under Margot's chin and then got him hit a roll-over ground ball to shortstop. But the way the night went for Alexander, speedy Kevin Kiermaier, who was running on the pitch from second base, ended up scoring after Niko Goodrum threw to first.

"He crossed Niko's path right at the right time," Alexander said. "Just a lot went wrong for us. Niko made a good play keeping it in the infield."

Alexander, facing the Rays for the second time in six days, did well to pitch into the sixth inning. Especially after Yandy Diaz, just moved into the lead-off spot for this game by Rays manager Kevin Cash, whacked his first pitch 428 feet into the seats. 

He walked the second hitter (Margot) and hit the third (Nelson Cruz). And then dispatched 12 of the next 14 hitters — getting three outs in the second inning on eight pitches, all strikes — until the mess in the fifth.

He even got the rare opportunity to face Cruz, a right-handed hitter has done some damage against him over the years (4 for 9), a third time.

And struck him out. 

But as Tigers skipper AJ Hinch said afterwards, it was less about the dangers of facing the lineup for the third time and more about the importance of Alexander extending his outing.

"We have certain plans for the weekend that gave us a little bit of limitation down there (in the bullpen)," Hinch said. "As many arms as we have, they are not all going to be available. We have to have somebody back up (Casey) Mize on Friday and somebody back-up (Tarik) Skubal on Saturday. 

"We needed Tyler to stretch out a little bit."

Alexander was one out away from getting through the sixth, but he walked left-handed hitting Joey Wendle and Hinch brought in right-hander Drew Carlson to face right-handed slugger Mike Zunino. 

"I thought Tyler rebounded well after the first inning," Hinch said. "I didn't want Zunino to face a lefty. He does twice as much damage against lefties. But he ended up hitting the homer off the right-hander anyway." 

Zunino hits .200 points better, slugs 531 points and doubles his OPS against lefties. But, alas, he crushed the second pitch from Carlton and put it into the left field seats. 

"Alexander did a good job," Hinch said. "We just didn't have enough offense to support him. It's a tough league, man. Tough game." 

Twitter: @cmccosky