With a chance to extend their one-run lead, the Detroit Tigers didn’t miss. Not against AL Central rival Cleveland. Not against right-handed reliever Nick Wittgren, who replaced starter Zach Plesac.
The Tigers sent eight batters to the plate in the seventh inning and added three runs, to secure a 5-2 win over the Indians on Saturday at Comerica Park. AJ Hinch improved to 2-0 as Detroit’s manager, and Bryan Garcia got a four-out save.
During the seventh, Jeimer Candelario (double), Jonathan Schoop (sac fly) and Nomar Mazara (single) each drove in a run. Candelario’s RBI double went the opposite way, to left field. He finished 3-for-4 with one walk, and Mazara went 3-for-4 with three singles. The Tigers collected 10 hits, took five walks and struck out six times.
The Tigers’ Nos. 2-6 hitters — Candelario, Willi Castro, Miguel Cabrera, Schoop and Mazara — accounted for all five RBIs. Robbie Grossman, hitting in the leadoff spot, walked three times, giving him walks in six of his nine plate appearances as a Tiger.
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The Tigers are back in Comerica Park on Sunday against Cleveland. Left-hander Tarik Skubal, entering his second year in the majors, gets the start against righty Aaron Civale. On Monday, the Tigers start a three-game home series against the Minnesota Twins.
Teheran gets job done
Right-hander Julio Teheran was far from graceful in his Tigers debut. He struggled to finish his pitches; his fastball velocity, which sat around 92 mph during spring training, dropped to 90 mph. But as Teheran labored, his defense took care of him. And when the pressure was on, such as in the fifth inning, Teheran got it done.
With two outs in the fifth inning, the 30-year-old walked Ben Gamel after getting to an 0-2 count. Next up was Cesar Hernandez — as AL MVP candidate Jose Ramirez watched from the on-deck circle — and Teheran got behind 2-0 in the count. But Teheran worked back, getting to a full count.
His sixth pitch of the at-bat was a 90 mph sinker, which Hernandez lined to left fielder Robbie Grossman, who caught the ball in stride. Teheran’s day was done at 90 pitches (58 strikes) and Hinch was able to avoid a matchup between Teheran and the dreaded Ramirez. (At the time, left-hander Derek Holland was warming up in the Tigers bullpen; Holland entered in the sixth and had a scoreless inning, including getting Ramirez to ground out weakly on his first pitch.)
Teheran gave up one run — a second-inning homer to Eddie Rosario — on four hits and three walks. He got three strikeouts and seven swings-and-misses. His whiffs came with his slider (four), sinker (two) and changeup (one). His fastball averaged 90 mph.
Schoop’s 1B groove
One of the reasons why Teheran didn’t allow more runs was Schoop’s excellent defense at first base. Until Saturday, Schoop had never played first base in 847 major-league games across nine years.
After Teheran put runners on first and second with no outs in the third, Schoop started an unconventional 3-6-3 double play with Castro at short. Then, in the fourth, he was on the finishing end of a 6-4-3 double play with Castro and second baseman Niko Goodrum — just after Teheran walked Rosario. And in the seventh inning, Schoop caught a foul ball with his arm extended into Cleveland’s dugout for the second out.
Hinch plans to continue shuffling players through first base, but Schoop’s defensive reliability is an added benefit. When prospect Isaac Paredes comes up, he might need to play more second than third base, with Candelario entrenched there. But this won’t be an issue, considering Schoop isn’t a liability at first base.
Fulmer’s bullpen debut
Right-hander Michael Fulmer had started all 85 games in his major-league career.
He came out of the bullpen for the seventh inning, trusted to protect a one-run lead. His fastball averaged 95.4 mph — after sitting at a mere 93 mph last season. He generated three swings-and-misses with his 14 pitches (seven strikes), getting one each with his slider, four-seamer and changeup.
He struck out Andres Gimenez with a nasty slider to complete a perfect inning. Fulmer got a round of applause, something he hasn’t heard in a long time from the 8,000 fans in Comerica Park, for his performance.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.