'It's a gut punch': Tigers closer Soto blows ninth-inning lead in 3-1 loss to Rangers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — A bona-fide pitcher’s duel broke out at Comerica Park Thursday night.

Texas’ veteran left-hander Martin Perez and Tigers’ rookie righty Beau Brieske traded zeros for five-plus innings. Perez was keeping the Tigers off balance with a mix of changeups, sinkers and cutters. Brieske limited the Rangers to three singles, expertly locating sliders and changeups off mid-90s four-seam fastballs.

The rookie won the battle. But the Rangers won the war.

Tigers closer Gregory Soto throws a pitch against the Rangers in the ninth inning of Thursday's 3-1 loss at Comerica Park.

Tigers closer Gregory Soto gave up three runs in the top of the ninth inning and Texas took the first game of four at Comerica Park, 3-1, extending the Tigers' losing streak to five games.  

"It's just one of those things," said Brieske afterward. "When a guy has a bad night it's tough to see. You don't want to think about it selfishly. He's more frustrated than anyone. It was just one of those nights.

"I did put the team in position to win. It just didn't work out. So we just keep working."

Soto, a lefty, never looked settled at any point in the inning. He walked left-handed hitting Corey Seager to lead it off. Then he called the grounds crew out to work on the mound. The next hitter, Adolis Garcia, drilled a comebacker off the back of Soto's ankle or calf.

BOX SCORE: Rangers 3, Tigers 1

He got the out at first but there was another delay while the trainer came out to look at him.

"I don't know if he was ever really comfortable out there," catcher Eric Haase said.

Soto hit lefty Kole Calhoun to put two on. With two outs, he walked lefty Nathaniel Lowe to load the bases. That set the table for right-handed hitting Ezequiel Duran, who hit Soto's 28th pitch inside the bag at first base and into the right field corner.

Three runs scored.

"He lives on the edge sometimes and tonight it was too much," manager AJ Hinch said of Soto. "It's bend until you break and we broke. The kid (Duran) got his first extra-base hit off a lefty. It's a gut punch." 

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It was the second blown save in 15 opportunities for Soto, who declined to speak to the media after the game.

"Hopefully it's just a little bump in the road for him and he'll bounce back," Haase said. "He's an All-Star closer for a reason. We're not worried."

Brieske ended up pitching seven shutout innings. It was the longest outing of his young career and he’s now on a run of 13 straight scoreless innings — the longest by a Tigers' rookie since Michael Fulmer in 2016.

"His resiliency to stick with the game plan was impressive," Hinch said. "He was really good at attacking the strike zone and he was able to spin enough and land some good changeups. I thought his fastball location was the best it's been since he's been in the big leagues.

"He was just super focused."

Tigers pitcher Beau Brieske delivers a pitch in the fifth inning.

The Rangers stacked their lineup with six left-handed hitters and Brieske smartly countered his elite changeup and vastly-improved slider.

He got six whiffs on 17 swings at the slider and virtually no hard contact on any of his pitches. The average exit velocity on the 16 balls put in play against him was a meek 84 mph.

He got nine ground ball outs and six strikeouts.

"Haase really called a good game," Brieske said. "We were on the same page pretty much all night. The only shakes were with the four-seam and sinker."

But it was the most lefties he's faced in one lineup all season and he limited them to three hits in 15 at-bats.

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"It was cool to see how the three-pitch mix would work to a mostly-lefty lineup and I thought we did a good job," Brieske said. "We were getting ahead with each pitch and putting guys away."

It looked like Brieske might've been leaking oil in the sixth after he walked Marcus Semien with one out and then fell into a 2-0 hole against Seager. But he got out of it with a little help from his catcher.

On a signal from Haase, Brieske made a quick move to first base and picked off Semien.

"Haasey called the pick," Brieske said. "We were varying holds and showing different looks. They're an aggressive base running team (lead the Majors in stolen bases) and Haase called it. Huge out."

The inning ended with an outstanding catch by first baseman Spencer Torkelson who reached as far as he could into the Rangers’ dugout and snow-coned a foul pop by Garcia.

"I like how he finished his outing," Hinch said. "It would have been really easy to go get him (after six innings) and try to protect him. Instead he reached back and finished his outing clean."

Tigers third baseman Harold Castro prepares to throw to second after getting a force out at third in the fifth inning.  The ball was ruled foul.

Brieske ended his night by punching out Calhoun and Jonah Heim and getting Lowe to ground out in the seventh.    

"This is on the right track," Brieske said. "I think I'm starting to get more into the style of pitching where I'm attacking with the heater on both sides of the plate and actually mixing my pitches. I'm starting to inch closer. I don't want to limit myself and say this is it because there is still things I know I could have done better.

"Keep working. Keep building."

The Tigers broke the seal in the sixth inning. Willi Castro, called out on strikes his first two times up, led off with a single and went to third on a 413-foot ground rule double to center by Javier Baez.

It was the best swing Baez has had in a long time, but he was denied an RBI when the ball one-hopped into the shrubs. Had it not, Castro would have scored easily.

That left it up to Robbie Grossman to deliver the run, which he did with a sacrifice fly to right.  

"It's tough," Haase said. "We're trying to get wins any way, shape or form. With the tone of the game, the way it was going, we thought one run would be enough and we came up short."

Haase, who had two hits off Perez, was thrown out at the plate in the third inning, trying to score on a hard single to right by Miguel Cabrera. It was his second single of the night and the ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 107 mph. It got to right-fielder Garcia on two hops.

Third base coach Ramon Santiago aggressively sent Haase home. Hard to fault him given how much the Tigers have struggled to score runs. But Garcia threw a seed and Haase was out at that plate.

"That was being very aggressive," Hinch said. "But we're trying to score one run as often as possible."


Twitter: @cmccosky