Cleveland — It seemed odd initially that manager Ron Gardenhire had right-hander John Schreiber warming up so soon in the sixth inning Saturday.
After all, the Tigers were up 1-0 and lefty starter Matthew Boyd was cruising through five innings — allowing just four hits with six strikeouts, using an economical 77 pitches. It was a return-to-form performance.
“That was the Matty Boyd that we’ve seen,” Gardenhire said. “That’s the good Matty Boyd. He was in command.”
But he walked Jose Ramirez to start the sixth and with right-handed slugger Franmil Reyes and three straight right-handed batters looming, Gardenhire decided to get the sidearming Schreiber hot.
The rationale for the move was sound, but the results ended up poor for the Tigers. The Indians ended up scoring four times in the sixth and beat the Tigers, 6-1 at Progressive Field.
BOX SCORE: Indians 6, Tigers 1
“We were hoping at first he could get through it,” Gardenhire said. “Talking to Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson), he said he was gassed. We let him face one more guy and we brought the submariner in. All of our charts said that was the right guy for that part of the lineup.
“Just didn’t work out.”
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After the walk to Ramirez (who was in an 0-for-21 skid, by the way), Boyd gave up a jam-shot single to Francisco Lindor (three hits) and got Carlos Santana to fly out.
He was at 90 pitches and done.
“The lead-off walk was tough,” Boyd said. “I put my team in that position there. Didn’t want to do that. Walks in general hurt, lead-off walks are worse. Not a good time for it, not in that spot in the lineup or where my pitch-count was.”
But just as Gardenhire figured, Schreiber neutralized Reyes with a late-biting slider, going to it on 3-2 to strike him out. All there was left for Schreiber to do was get right-handed-hitting Jordan Luplow, who was 1-for-16 against right-handed pitching this season.
Schreiber got ahead of him but nibbled and nibbled and eventually walked him to load the bases.
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“That’s the one disappointment I have about the night,” Schreiber said. “That at-bat against Luplow. I could have attacked the zone a little bit more.”
Schreiber then got two strikes on right-handed hitting Domingo Santana, too, but again, he nibbled and brought Santana back into the count.
This time, on 3-2, Schreiber tried to beat him with a 90-mph fastball. Santana hit a rocket through the infield — 105.8 mph exit velocity — that ended up splitting the gap in left-center, scoring all three runs.
A third right-handed hitter, Roberto Perez, singled in the fourth run of the inning.
“Me and Romey (catcher Austin Romine) talked about it in Chicago when I was in the same situation,” Schreiber said. “Just about really executing pitches in big moments, that’s what really separates guys. I threw that 3-2 fastball and Romey wanted it below the zone and away.
“I think I executed it pretty well. He just got it through the hole.”
Tough one to swallow, for sure. Especially given Boyd’s performance. He was mixing all four of his pitches from the start and had the Indians’ hitters off-balance. He threw 23 change-ups and got eight swings and misses with it.
He also had much better command of his four-seam fastball. He was able to get it in on right-handed hitters, something he’d struggled to do in his previous starts. He was charged with two runs, but he gave up only five hits with six strikeouts.
“Talking to Rick and Romey and (catcher Grayson) Greiner, that’s how we’ve always seen my game,” Boyd said. “I can pitch with a change-up. I can pitch with a curve. I can pitch with a slider and with a fastball. Whatever is working and whatever is needed.”
He had become, through the second half of last season and early this season, too reliant on his slider. In his previous start in Chicago, he threw 66 pitches in two innings and threw one change-up. Once he started mixing the change-up in, he breezed through the third and fourth innings.
“It’s like we have chocolate cake in the fridge, right, with my slider,” he said. “You know it’s in there but you have to stop eating it so much, especially when you know there’s other stuff in there that we can go to, as well.”
To Boyd, though, his performance validated only that he’s moving in the right direction.
“Oh man, chasing results is very short-sighted,” he said. “It’s a slippery slope…There’s going to be times when you go out there with horrible stuff and pitch a shutout. And there will be times when you have great stuff and it doesn’t go your way.
“You have to have the awareness of, what’s my game and what do I expect from myself. And it’s about taking it one pitch at a time and take from it what you can — then move forward.”
The Tigers’ bats, meanwhile, were being stymied by a lithe, power-armed right-hander making quite a spectacular big-league debut. Triston McKenzie, who because of an assortment of injuries hadn’t pitched since 2018, struck out 10 Tigers in six innings.
Nine of the 10 strikeouts came on fastballs, most of those up in the strike zone. The only Indians pitcher to top that in his big-league debut — Luis Tiant, who fanned 11 in 1964.
“He had it going on,” Gardenhire said. “He was tough. You just tip your hat to that kid. He threw the ball great.”
Of the two hits the Tigers managed off him, one was a solo home run by former Indians farmhand Willi Castro. The two were teammates in Double-A Akron in 2018.
“They told me after he came back (from injury) he was throwing a lot better,” Castro said. “But I had an idea. He got me with two change-ups my first at-bat. I knew he was going to start me with a change-up and I was waiting for that.”
The Tigers managed just one hit off three Indians’ relievers from the seventh through the ninth.
The loss drops the Tigers to 10-15.