Offense awakens, returns to slumber as Tigers split doubleheader vs. A's
Detroit — Baseball has an odd way of sorting things out sometimes.
The Tigers ended a couple of aggravating streaks in the first of two games against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday. First, the 6-0 victory snapped a six-game losing streak. Second, the two runs they scored in the fifth inning ended a streak of 28 straight scoreless frames.
"It felt good to win today," said Tigers starter Tarik Skubal, who pitched seven scoreless innings. "All I was trying to do was give us a chance to win. Their guy (Frankie Montas) is really good. To be be able to hang in there and score some runs later felt really good."
The euphoria didn't last long, though. The Athletics took Game 2, 4-1, behind 5⅓ scoreless innings by rookie right-hander Adrian Martinez in his big league debut.
"We need it to be encouraging," Tigers manager AJ Hinch said of the split. "We're going to make it encouraging."
The way the Tigers ended the scoring drought in the first game made you think the baseball gods were having a little fun with it. And why wouldn’t they in a game where the Tigers were the visiting team in their own ballpark?
"I was going to run out at like 1:08 p.m., and someone said, 'You're the away team today,'" Skubal said. "And I was like, 'Oh, thank god.' I mean, I knew we were away but I was really glad someone said something because I would've run out and Montas would've run out and been like, 'What's going on?'"
This game, originally scheduled to be played as part of a three-game set in Oakland, was erased by the lockout and added back into the schedule. The other two games will be played in a doubleheader in Oakland after the All-Star break.
During the scoring drought, the Tigers hit a bunch of balls on the nose that ended up as outs. Jonathan Schoop hit four bullets with runners in scoring position that ended up finding glove and not green.
So guess how the skid finally came to an end? With a walk, a bloop and a bunt, the runs scoring on outs. Why not?
Schoop, whose walk rate is among the league’s lowest (3.8%), walked to start the fifth. Willi Castro blooped a single into shallow left. Left fielder Chad Pinder and shortstop Elvis Andrus collided while chasing the ball. Both stayed on the ground for several minutes. It looked like Andrus’ knee or foot caught Pinder in the face. Both remained in the game.
(Quick side: Castro blooped one in the same spot in the sixth inning. Pinder and Andrus converged again. This time both backed off and the ball fell in.)
"It's just been so unfortunate," Skubal said. "We've hit the ball hard, just right at guys. When we hit those two flares, honestly it felt like we were moving on."
Tucker Barnhart followed with a bunt between the mound and third. Neither Montas nor third baseman Kevin Smith pursued the ball — single, bases loaded.
Derek Hill hit a long sacrifice fly to center to score the first run since the third inning Saturday night. Robbie Grossman’s fielder’s choice ground out to second scored Castro.
At that point, the Tigers still hadn’t knocked in a run with a base hit since Miguel Cabrera’s two-run double in Houston on Saturday night. They hadn’t hit a home run since Cabrera’s in Los Angeles on May 1.
That all stopped when Schoop lofted a sloppy slider from Montas inside the foul pole in left field in the sixth inning. It was his second homer of the season and a just reward for enduring a stretch where 12 balls struck with exit velocities of 92.6 mph our better went unrewarded with hits.
The Tigers doubled down on those three runs in the seventh. Jeimer Candelario drove a bases-loaded double into the gap in left-center field off lefty reliever Kirby Snead, scoring all three runners.
"Candy's hit felt like the biggest hit of the year because it allowed us to exhale a little bit, gave us a little bigger lead," Hinch said. "We haven't had that big hit. We hope it's a good sign."
Candelario had three hits.
Skubal was happy for the support, though he didn’t need more than a run. He limited the Athletics to three hits over the seven shutout innings. Throwing his sinker and four-seam fastballs off a lively slider, he struck out five and didn’t pitch in much distress all day.
"My fastball didn't quite have the life it usually does, for whatever reason," he said. "So I relied on the slider a little bit more. I liked that pitch more today and didn't have the same confidence in my fastball."
Skubal is the first Tigers starter to complete seven innings this season.
Whatever momentum the Tigers might've taken from the victory was snuffed by Martinez in Game 2. He scattered four singles before giving way to the Athletics bullpen.
Tigers rookie Alex Faedo gave the Tigers a solid five innings in his second start, allowing two runs. He struck out seven and got 17 swings and misses, 10 off his slider.
"I felt like my stuff was a little better today," said Faedo, who was serving as the 27th man for the doubleheader and was optioned back to Toledo after the game. "I felt more comfortable out there. I felt less jittery and more under control. Instead of feeling like the new guy, I felt like I belonged."
All the damage came in the fourth inning when the Athletics turned three singles, a walk and a throwing error by catcher Eric Haase (one of his two in the game) into two runs.
The Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but could only muster one run when Grossman drew a bases-loaded walk. Athletics closer Lou Trivino got Austin Meadows to pop out to end the game.
"Tonight the first half of the game against the new kid was tough but we gave ourselves a chance at the end," Hinch said. "That's more what we expect out of our guys. We gave ourselves an opportunity with one of our best hitters up. Can't ask for much more than that."