Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch shares keys in series-opening win over White Sox
Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch checks in Tuesday, April 27, 2021, after a 5-2 win over the Chicago White Sox to begin a three-game series.
Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
Detroit Tigers right-hander Jose Urena wouldn’t let his team’s five errors rattle him. Chicago White Sox starter Lucas Giolito, an expected American League Cy Young candidate, was dealing on the other end, but that didn’t shake Urena’s presence.
He chose to block out the uncontrollable.
“His mental toughness stood out,” manager AJ Hinch said Tuesday. “He never let the errors behind him, some of the nonplays get to him. He just hung in there and would make a better pitch, and then we would turn the double play. You looked up, and we were hanging in there.”
Urena, signed to a one-year, $3.25 million contract this winter, responded to the defensive miscues by inducing four double plays and a career-high 15 ground-ball outs. The 29-year-old gave up seven hits and three walks but held the White Sox in check through seven innings. Of his two runs allowed, only one was earned.
All things considered, Urena’s third consecutive seven-inning performance was brilliant, and it paced the Tigers (8-16) to a 5-2 win Tuesday over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, snapping a five-game losing streak. The Tigers had lost nine in a row to the South Siders.
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“No one gave up,” Urena said. “Everybody was focused on the game and tried to execute. After a couple errors, we got it right back. Ground-ball double play, that worked really good for us.”
The five errors were made in the first five innings: Urena (fielding), third baseman Jeimer Candelario (two; missed catch, throwing), first baseman Jonathan Schoop (fielding) and second baseman Willi Castro (fielding). In the sixth inning, a ball deflected away from Candelario’s glove, but the play was deemed a single.
Candelario’s errors led to Chicago scoring one run each in the first and third innings.
Equipped with a power sinker and strong slider, Urena attacked while dealing with activity on the bases in all seven of his innings. That’s why it was surprising to see the White Sox — a powerful offense that feeds on momentum — score just two runs on eight hits, four walks and five errors. They went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
“They can make damage,” Urena said. “We had to mix it up, going in (and out), back and forth. You know, play with them and see how we can take advantage.”
In the third inning, after Chicago took a 2-1 lead, Urena tossed a changeup to Yasmani Grandal with runners on the corners and one out. Grandal bounced out for a 3-6-1 double play.
After Schoop’s error one inning later, Leury Garcia grounded into a 6-3 double play. Then, Urena struck out Nick Madrigal swinging with a sweeping slider.
In the fifth, Jose Abreu hit into a 5-4-3 double play after swinging at a 96 mph sinker with runners on the corners and one out.
“He found the strike zone, and he kept us in the game, regardless of the things that happened,” Schoop said. “Sometimes we made a play for him. Today, things happened, and he kept us battling and gave up ground balls to get out of the inning.”
For the fourth time in a four-inning span, Urena forced another twin killing. Again, it was Grandal; a 4-6-3 double play in the sixth to clear the bases. The White Sox gave Urena trouble with a walk and a single to extend the inning. But Madrigal could only muster a slow roller to shortstop on Urena’s slider, ending the threat.
“I was trying to play for ground balls,” Urena said. “That was the mindset. The best thing in the game was, even besides a couple of errors, those guys never gave up. They were focused and made the plays. We kept attacking.”
An RBI double from Wilson Ramos and two-run homer from Niko Goodrum helped chase Giolito in the top of the frame, giving the Urena and the Tigers a 4-2 lead. Then a seven-pitch battle with Tim Anderson to leadoff the bottom of the inning ended in a walk.
A call to the bullpen seemed inevitable.
Ramos, catching Tuesday, didn’t let Hinch make that choice, pairing up with Goodrum to throw out Anderson trying to steal second base. The next two batters, Adam Eaton and Yoan Moncada, flied out to end the inning.
“It relieved some of the pressure,” Hinch said. “I’m not going to let him face Abreu in that inning, so he got through his seventh inning by working together with Ramos delivering and the tag on the other end was pretty remarkable. You need all that to happen. It kind of stopped their momentum.”
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Urena’s gritty performance made him the first Tigers pitcher with three seven-inning starts in a row since Jordan Zimmermann in 2017. Last year, the team’s starting pitchers struggled to pitch deep into games and ended with a league-worst 6.37 ERA.
This season, Detroit’s starters own a 3.73 ERA, eighth-best in MLB.
Urena in five outings has a 3.77 ERA, 15 walks and 21 strikeouts across 28⅔ innings. He has a 2.14 ERA through 21 innings in his last three starts, granting six walks compared to 12 strikeouts.
Matthew Boyd paces the Tigers with a 1.82 ERA in five starts, followed by Spencer Turnbull’s 3.27 ERA in his two starts since returning from a positive COVID-19 test in spring training. Michael Fulmer has a 3.32 ERA in six games (three starts). Rookies Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize carry a 5.21 ERA and 5.23 ERA, respectively.
“Going into the season, I know there were a lot of questions about the rotation,” Hinch said. “They’ve answered those questions in the first month. We’re close to being one-sixth of the way through the regular season, so we’ve got a long way to go, but as far tone setting and doing their part to give us a chance to win, we’ve been very pleased with our starting pitchers, for the most part.”