Bullpen allows late runs in Detroit Tigers’ 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh Pirates

Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Tigers right-hander Jose Urena looked to the outfield and tipped his hat after the first out in the seventh inning. Center fielder JaCoby Jones tracked a 412-foot line drive from Todd Frazier, made an over-the-head catch and crashed into the wall to take away an extra-base hit.

Jones deserved the sign of respect from his starting pitcher for his offensive performance, as well. He crushed an opposite-field, game-tying home run to right-center field in the fifth inning.

But the Tigers (7-12) couldn’t reward the efforts of Urena and Jones with a victory, as the Pittsburgh Pirates handed them a 4-2 loss with two runs in the eighth inning. The Tigers have dropped six of their last seven games.

Righty reliever Jose Cisnero left a runner on first base with two outs in eighth, but left-hander Gregory Soto allowed three consecutive batters to reach safely. In the process, the Pirates took a two-run edge that they didn’t squander. Richard Rodriguez sent down the Tigers in order in the bottom of the ninth.

GAME 1: Michael Fulmer stung by singles in 3-2 loss

GAME 2: Spencer Turnbull turns it up in return for 5-2 win

Along with Jones’ home run, the Tigers got an RBI stand-up triple from rookie sensation Akil Baddoo in the second inning. The 22-year-old Rule 5 draft pick plated Niko Goodrum, who doubled, to put his team on the scoreboard.

In the seventh, Jones singled with Baddoo on second base, but he was unable to score the go-ahead run because of a late jump on the hard-hit up the middle. Baddoo’s mistake was costly. The next two batters — Robbie Grossman and Willi Castro — flied out with Baddoo standing on third base.

The Tigers begin a four-game series against the Kansas City Royals on Friday, with right-hander Casey Mize starting. He is opposed by lefty Mike Minor.

Urena strong again

After a seven-inning outing against the Oakland Athletics, Urena backed up his last performance by giving the Tigers another seven innings against the Pirates. He gave up two runs on five hits and one walk, with two strikeouts.

The two runs against Urena came in the first inning on a pair of RBI singles.

Here’s how efficient Urena was Thursday with his 89 pitches (52 strikes): 20 pitches in the first inning, 12 in the second, 14 in the third, 13 in the fourth, 13 in the fifth, five in the sixth and 12 in the seventh. He got 10 ground-ball outs, thanks to his power sinker.

[ Successful debuts for Tigers’ Zack Short, Spencer Turnbull in doubleheader split ]

Urena threw 38 sinkers, 22 sliders, 22 four-seam fastballs and seven changeups. He got eight swings-and-misses — three with his sinker, three with his slider and two with his four-seamer. He added 12 called strikes.

After Adam Frazier’s leadoff double in the first inning, Urena didn’t allow an extra-base hit the rest of the way. He struck out Jacob Stallings in the second with a 93.9 mph sinker and Erik Gonzalez in the sixth on three consecutive sliders.

Pittsburgh starter Mitch Keller went five innings, allowing two runs on five hits. He didn’t issue a walk and struck out five batters. He used 80 pitches, of which 47 were four-seam fastballs. Keller retired the Tigers in order in the first and third innings, and he only allowed one runner to reach in the fourth.

Castro’s defensive mistake

The Pirates got lucky in the top of the first inning because Castro, the second baseman, was caught sleeping. On Gonzalez’s single to score Bryan Reynolds for a 2-0 lead, he tried to stretch his single into a double.

Center fielder JaCoby Jones overthrew second base, but the ball was retrieved behind the pitcher’s mound by first baseman Jonathan Schoop, who backed up the play perfectly. He fired a short distance to Castro at second base, well ahead of a sprinting Gonzalez.

But Castro’s poor positioning and lazy tag allowed Gonzalez to slide into second base safely. Luckily, Urena got Frazier to ground out to third baseman Jeimer Candelario for the third out.

A CHANGE: Tigers shortstop Willi Castro will play some second base. Here’s why

Yet Urena should not have need to worry about Frazier, but Castro forced him into a tough spot — a runner on second base with two outs — by missing an easy opportunity to end the top of the first inning.

Recently, the Tigers committed to using Castro at second base and Goodrum at shortstop when they’re both in the lineup. Previously, the team deemed Castro the everyday shortstop, regardless of the situation.

While Castro looks more comfortable at second, his lack of confidence remains when he is forced to throw. His arm speed is much slower — a product of being too reserved and worried about making an error — than Goodrum and the other infielders when turning double plays and tossing the ball to first base.

Even if Castro evolves into a career second baseman, which seems likely, his defense must improve, especially if his batting average isn’t sustainable around the .300 mark.

Miggy takes BP

Before the game, 38-year-old Miguel Cabrera took batting practice outdoors for the first time since sustaining a mild left biceps strain April 10 in an 11-3 loss to Cleveland at Progressive Field. He was placed on the 10-day injured list the next morning.

Since then, the 19-year MLB veteran has slowly worked his way back to full health and could be activated by the weekend. He took batting practice inside Tuesday and Wednesday, but went outside Thursday in 40-degree weather at Comerica Park ahead of the series finale.

The next step in his progression is live batting practice, which is expected to happen Friday. The Tigers will bring up a pitcher from the alternate training site in Toledo. This pitcher won’t join the team; he is only making the trip to pitch to Cabrera.

If all goes as planned, don’t be shocked to see Cabrera back in the lineup Saturday or Sunday. This season, Cabrera is batting .125 with one double, one home run, three RBIs, three walks and four strikeouts in seven games.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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