Detroit – The Tigers might need to resort to sorcery or some other form of black magic to break the hex against the Oakland Athletics.
Or, failing that, try stringing a few hits together and scoring some runs.
The Athletics rode three well-struck early home runs off rookie Casey Mize on their way to a breezy 7-0 win over the Tigers in Oakland Saturday. It was their third straight win in the series and improved their record over Detroit to 21-2 going back to 2017.
“That’s two days in a row we haven’t scored a run,” manager AJ Hinch said. “That’s not going to lead you to many wins. You do have to tip your cap and pay your respect to the guy on the other side, but you also have to stay in the fight and do what you can to make it more difficult on them.”
The Tigers put back-to-back runners on base once in the last 18 innings. Their offense in two games has produced nine singles
“I think it’s just more so about guys learning how to play the game at this level,” said Robbie Grossman, the former Athletic who has three of those singles, two on Saturday. “We’re going to see who really wants to be here and who wants to show up and play hard every day and be a part of this.”
Getting shutdown by right-hander Frankie Montas on Friday night was one thing — right-handers have been besting Tigers hitters regularly for two-plus seasons. Getting blanked over six innings by a 27-year-old left-hander with a career ERA of 6.87 is quite another. The Tigers got four singles off Cole Irvin, who was beating them with a 90-mph sinker and 91-mph four-seam fastball.
“It looked like he had a little sneakiness to him,” Hinch said. “We just didn’t put bats together.”
The last time the Tigers were shutout in back-to-back games by the Athletics, the pitchers were Ken Holzman and Catfish Hunter. That was in 1973. Against far less celebrated pitchers, Tigers hitters have struck out 31 times in these three games and drawn just two walks.
“They’ve really won the competition, the pitcher-batter competition, on both sides of the ball,” Hinch said.
That didn’t leave much margin for error for Mize, who was coming off seven scoreless innings in Houston. And the fatal blows were struck early.
With two outs in the first, Athletics first baseman Matt Olson crushed a two-out elevated fastball 438 feet. With two outs in the second inning, on successive pitches, Aramis Garcia hit a two-run home run (hanging slider) and Mark Canha (fastball) hit a solo shot.
Those three runs left the bat with exit velocities of 110.6, 104 and 105.7 mph. Mize did end up going five innings, getting 11 swings and misses and 19 called strikes. But the average exit velocity on the 17 balls the Athletics put in play against him was 94 mph.
“I got off to a slow start and I can attribute that to the slider not being there early, and that allowed them to sit on the fastball over the plate,” Mize said. “I probably should have shown them my fastball in earlier than I did. They were just really comfortable with fastballs out over the plate.
“I didn’t show the fastball in and I wasn’t landing my slider. So they were just sitting on the four-seam and they were able to do a lot of damage with it.”
The Olson at-bat was the perfect illustration of that. Mize showed him four elevated four-seam fastballs in eight pitches. The eighth one leaked just over the plate enough to allow Olson to barrel it up.
“That’s a risk-reward with balls up against him,” Hinch said. “He swings and misses a lot and he can also hit the ball out of the park anytime he swings the bat. Casey maybe went to the well one too many times in that at-bat.
“But the key is, their hitters haven’t missed, they haven’t fouled them off, they haven’t taken them and they haven’t mis-hit them. It’s the direct opposite of how our at-bats have ended.”
Mize started throwing his fastball in (as evidenced by two hit batsmen) after the second inning and only gave up a couple of singles through five.
“Things seem to flow a lot better,” Mize said. “I seemed more like myself, making hitters uncomfortable pitching inside. I hate that I wasn’t able to realize that earlier and execute those.”
The Athletics tacked on a couple runs off reliever Joe Jimenez, who continues to struggle with his control. After walking three on Thursday, he walked four in the seventh inning, which led to two more runs.
“It’s been a bad couple of games for Joe back in the big leagues,” Hinch said. “The walks are a concern. I know he’s worked hard to corral his delivery. But we need to throw the ball over the plate.”